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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 #3


Our thoughts about family dinner and estate planning are often the same.  We know we should do it, but it is hard to make the time to “get it done.”  It is ironic that the very reason we do not “get it done” is also the reason we should focus on doing it.  The passage of time.  Every day that we do not make time for family dinner is an opportunity lost to enjoy our family’s company and provide our kids with all the enriching benefits of family dinner.  Every day that we do not have an estate plan in place is a day we could have had the satisfaction that our family is protected for the unexpected (like a heart attack experienced by a seemingly healthy husband). 


We all have those nagging little feelings of guilt about the things we should do (exercise more, organize the closets, clean up our email, etc.).  Somehow time just gets away from us or we are just too exhausted at the end of the day.  Sometimes one of those things is family dinner.  Life is sooo busy and complicated and the thought of cooking and sitting down to dinner seems exhausting sometimes (or often).  That scenario describes many of us.  Studies have found that more than 50% of families do not eat dinner together on a regular basis.  


The same rationale can be true for estate planning.  Digging through our paperwork, making decisions about our property and healthcare, and thinking about our death seems exhausting and unpleasant.  We are not alone in delaying estate planning as studies find that more than 50% of adults do not have an estate plan.


So, are we and our families destined to lose out on the benefits of family dinner and estate planning?  Hell, no!  Not if I can help it!!  I am a huge advocate of both family dinners and estate planning because I have experienced the benefits of both. They are worth it!


I like to think the Clancy kids are caring people who are succeeding in life.  I attribute much of that success to family dinner.  When our kids were little, our lives were crazy, and I would have been just as happy to eat in shifts (or frankly, alone).  Thankfully, Mike placed family dinner as a high priority for our family.  Mike added candles to our nightly dinners to set the mood.  Turns out candles also gave the kids a reason to sit still.  Candle extinguishing was awarded to the best behaved.  Although the time of dinner was sacrificed for our schedules, we still made the effort to be together for most dinners (a little snacking helped).  


As the kids grew older, I really began to look forward to our nightly dinners even if it was just a Costco heat up meal and a bag salad.  The true compliment to family dinner came when the kids started to bus their dirty plates to the kitchen and return to the dinner table for more discussion. 


My passion for family dinner is equally matched with my passion for estate planning.  Mike and I are now the poster children for estate planning.  Having a heart attack and then creating an estate plan is never the best order of things.  Even more embarrassing is that we are a judge and an attorney who certainly knew better than to ignore planning our estate. 


The experience of Mike’s heart attack has propelled me to become an estate planning true believer.  (All adults should have an estate plan.)  Creating an estate plan is soo much easier and less expensive than many people think.  A completed estate plan is usually accomplished in two meetings (45 minutes to one hour each and one of them is a fun signing party).   


Once we had an estate plan, I thought, "What were we waiting for?!?!"   We had spent more time watching unimportant basketball games (Mike) and re-watching the movie Julie & Julia (for the 11th time – me) than the time it took to create our estate plan.  I encourage you to make the effort to find the time for family dinner and creating an estate plan.  You won’t regret it!


Mike and I grew up eating family dinners.  At times we and our siblings were asked to pitch in and help with the meal.  In Mike’s house, there was a time when each child was responsible once a week to cook an entire meal.  Mike’s mom explained to Mike and his three siblings the importance of having a balanced meal.  Back then a balanced meal included a dairy, a meat, a starch, and a vegetable.  Mike’s younger brother Tim, who was 8 years old at the time, was quite challenged when it was his turn to cook as he was a picky eater yet very competitive.  Tim found the perfect meal that was “delicious” yet still included the four food groups.   Milk was the dairy, the hotdog was the meat, the bun was the starch, and ketchup was the vegetable.   Hilarious!