By Anna Johansson • June 07, 2018•Issues, Other Issues
Being a lawyer means you have an advantage when it comes to offering suggestions to friends and family. Understandably, you may not want to give your friends legal counsel, but when a friend is confused, it’s hard to stay completely silent.
Okay, the situations portrayed in Hollywood movies regarding friends annoyingly asking their lawyer friends for advice aren’t that far off. You’ve probably had more than your fair share of friends asking you for advice, even in areas of law you aren’t even familiar with. Somehow, when people know you’re a lawyer, they think you can get them out of any kind of trouble.
Sometimes, however, the kind of help friends need isn’t limited to getting out of trouble. Sometimes they’re presented with unfamiliar situations and they just don’t know where to begin. Estate planning is one of those unfamiliar situations, and some of your closest friends may not even feel comfortable asking you for help. However, you may see friends in distress and want to jump in to help, and how you approach the conversation matters.
Initiating the conversation
Not everyone is going to accept unsolicited advice or offers for help, even close friends. Giving advice almost always backfires because the person giving advice is often trying to change the other person. In the case of someone’s personal affairs, unsolicited advice might be interpreted as an attack on their ability to manage their own life. It might even be a reminder that they aren’t able to handle their life, which will just close them off.
If you see a friend in a situation where they would benefit from estate planning, for example, if one of their parents is terminally ill, you can initiate a conversation about it without risking your friendship. The key is to avoid pushing, and be more curious than anything.
For example, if you go out to dinner with your friend, you could casually say, “So I know your dad isn’t doing so well. Have you made any plans or preparations yet?” Leave it open-ended. Allow them to share. Remember, they’re going through a rough time and they’re processing intense emotions, as well as having to deal with the technical aspects of their situation.
If they say they don’t have a plan, or aren’t sure where to start, ask them, “Would you like my input?” It sounds silly, but get their permission first. Allow them to answer positively before offering your thoughts. If they decline, allow them to decline and don’t make them wrong for it. The key is to plant the idea in their mind. They may think about it over a period of time and then ask you about it later on.
You can also send them helpful articles to read, which, despite what some may think, passing on information that might benefit someone isn’t seen as a nuisance. It’s one of the strongest ways to maintain relationships.
When your friend is ready to talk
When your friend is ready to talk, be compassionate and still remain curious. Before offering any advice, ask them if they know what’s involved in estate planning. Even when it’s not your area of practice, you can explain the basic components of estate planning like creating a will, a living trust, assigning power of attorney, and even establishing a pet trust. The pet trust is especially important because it’s something many people forget about that often leads to disagreements.
Let your friend know you intend to help them get through their situation without any surprises. Once you get them familiar with the basic process, they won’t feel so overwhelmed. Then you can refer them to someone who specializes in estate planning and your friend won’t feel too overwhelmed to tackle their situation. You’ll probably strengthen your relationship, too.