WILLS AND WORDS: FAMILY DINNER EDITION (an estate planner's chronicle)


THE OPINION: Family Dinner is a powerful vehicle that strengthens families and enhances a discussion of any subject matter.

THE HYPOTHESIS: Family Dinner can not only enhance a discussion of estate planning (money and death), but it can also serve to strengthen the entire estate planning process.

THE RESEARCHER:  An Oak Park parent and attorney (sole practitioner) who has discovered the benefits of family dinner and the value of possessing an estate plan. 

THE METHOD:  Four essays of analysis (once a month).

Essay #2



Clients ask me what they should do to prepare for creating their estate plan (wills, trusts, powers of attorney).  I always responded with a list of questions for them to answer.  I sought my clients’ desires for their finances, healthcare and guardianship designations for minor children to be incorporated into documents to be used at a time of incapacity and at my clients’ death. My responses were perfectly satisfactory, then.  Not now. 


Now, I have come to realize that what my clients really desire is what we all want.  A seamless settling of our estate. That is for our family/friends/organizations to receive financial, and perhaps even emotional, benefits from our life savings with as little hassle as possible.


Certainly, drafting the estate plan documents is necessary for a seamless settling of an estate.  Without these documents there could be estate chaos. (see Wills and Words Challenge: 7 Arguments To Create An Estate Plan)  But I now realize that may not be enough. 


Despite an estate planning attorney’s best effort, there is the possibility that an estate plan would not produce seamless results.  The cause for poor results?  Unresolved family dynamic issues. 


The grief from a parent’s passing can trigger siblings’ memories of bygone odds that were never evened.  As a result, the settlement of an estate can, unfortunately, become a battleground for the settlement of old scores by siblings.  Particularly if there is a lack of trust.  Conversely, when a strong sibling bond exists, it can be relied upon as a source of much needed comfort in a time of sorrow.  Harmonious sibling relationships result in harmonious settling of a parent’s estate.


How do we promote sibling harmony for our children?  Communication and connection.  A family that can enjoy each other’s company and communicate effectively will establish the trust and create the family harmony that leads to a seamless settling of their parents’ estates.  (Advice we can apply to settling our own parents’ estates as well.)  A great way for our kids to learn how to treat their siblings is by watching us interact with our own brothers and sisters.  An excellent time to interact with family is at extended family dinners.  Research says that one of the best ways to create strong family bonds is through regular family dinners.   


Extended family dinners provide the opportunity for us to connect and communicate with our siblings and model good sibling behavior for our kids.  Extended family dinners also give our kids the opportunity to spend time with their grandparents.  Close emotional relationships between grandparents and grandchildren lower rates of depression for kids and adults and may help grandparents live longer.  Family dinners provide extended families a relaxed environment to connect and talk about serious subjects (health and money) as well as talk about fun topics like family history. 


According to research, A child’s knowledge of his or her family history is the single biggest predictor of a child’s emotional well-being.  Kids who know their family history are more resilient, self-confident and have a greater belief that they are in control of their own lives.  The easiest and most entertaining way to learn about your family history is through family stories. 


The retelling family stories provides an opportunity for all generations to connect.  The more connected our children are to each other, the smoother the settling of our estate.  The more connected we are to our own siblings, the smoother settling of our parents’ estate. 


Luckily for me and our kids, my husband Mike’s family loves participating in family dinners.  It is at these dinners that the retelling of Clancy childhood stories often occurs.  One such story is about how Mike’s mom, D. Clancy, ran for U.S. Congress in 1976.  It was a time of all hands-on deck for Mike’s family.  After a great deal of hard work, D. won the Democratic primary.  Unfortunately, she lost to the Republican in the general election.  But still, winning the primary was quite a feat for a woman in 1976 -- something that I am sure played no small part in our daughter Maureen’s interest in women’s issues.  The re-telling of that story and many others strengthens the Clancy family bond and will help to ensure a smoother settling of Mike's and my estate as well as the estate of my in-laws.