Talking About Your Estate Plan with Your Family

Senior adults with their adult children

If you’ve made an estate plan, or even just called a lawyer to get the process started, congratulations! You’re already ahead of the majority of American adults: roughly ⅔ of them do not have an estate plan. But just making an estate plan is only the start. In order for your plan to provide you and your family the peace of mind you want, your family needs to know about the plan.

Why It’s So Hard to Talk About Estate Planning

Talking about your estate plan with your family can be difficult, but it’s essential. It’s difficult because it involves talking about two highly emotional subjects: death and money. If your family has tended to treat these subjects as taboo, starting the conversation can be even more challenging. But even in families that discuss these topics openly, talking about them on a personal level can be painful.

If your children are adults, especially young adults, they may not want to discuss, or even think about, the prospect of your eventual death or incapacity. If you’re discussing your estate plan with your own parents, the discussion may bring up uncomfortable thoughts of their own mortality—or perhaps their own lack of planning.

But making an estate plan is a gift to your loved ones, and it’s a more effective gift if they understand the outlines of your plan. It’s unlikely that they will ask you if you have a will or trust, so opening the discussion will probably be your responsibility.

Benefits of Discussing Your Estate Plan with Your Family

You created your estate plan to make things easier on your family when you die or become too incapacitated to manage your own affairs. If you’ve ever had to manage a family member’s estate without guidance, you understand just how helpful it is to have the road map of an estate plan. By letting your family know your wishes, your estate plan avoids unnecessary disputes between your heirs over what you would have wanted.

Avoid Confusion

You don’t want your loved ones to have to wonder, “Did Mom or Dad have a will?” or if they find a will or trust, to wonder if it is the most current one. They should know roughly when you made your most recent estate plan, and where to find it when the time comes. That will prevent needless stress and panic while they are grieving.

Explain an Unequal Distribution

Estate planning attorneys often recommend that, absent other considerations, an estate plan gives equal shares to all heirs in the same relationship with the person making the plan. For instance, it’s usually best to divide your estate equally among your children. But there may be valid reasons for not doing so.

For instance, you may have a son who made career sacrifices to live with and care for you so that you could remain in your home, and a daughter with a thriving professional practice across the country. You might want to leave the house to your son in gratitude for his care and because it has become his home, and divide the rest of the estate equally between your children.

If you communicate this to your children before your death, your daughter will be much more likely to understand the unequal distribution of your estate and feel positive about it. Your son will not have to worry where he will live after your death. Both of your children will understand that your planning was rational, not the result of undue influence or an unclear mind.

Manage Expectations

Even if you are not making an unequal distribution of your estate, it is still important to discuss your estate plan with your family. Doing so allows you to answer any questions they may have, and to manage their expectations so that they do not receive a shock at your death.

For instance, if your children expect to receive a significant inheritance, but your estate is smaller than they believe or you choose to give much of it to charity, that’s probably better for them to know sooner than later. You don’t necessarily need to provide the finer details, but you can give them a broad understanding that allows them to make wise decisions, like not relying on a future inheritance to solve their financial problems.

Prevent Conflict

One of the most important reasons to discuss your estate plan with your family is to prevent possible conflicts between them. To many people, an inheritance represents not just money, but the love of the person who has died. When your loved ones understand your estate plan and why you made it as you did, they are much less likely to fight over your estate or your wishes.

If you are like most people, the last thing you want is for your death and estate to drive the people you love apart; you want to leave a legacy of unity and close family ties. Talking about your estate plan with your family can help to make that a reality.

How to Start a Conversation About Estate Planning

It’s best, if possible, to have the conversation in a comfortable setting when nothing else major is going on—like your niece’s wedding, your aunt’s funeral, or another family member’s health crisis. Frame the discussion as positively as possible.

For instance, you might say, “Our family gives me so much pride and joy. I’m looking forward to enjoying many more years with all of you. But I’m also thinking ahead, so I’ve talked to a lawyer about an estate plan. Let me tell you what you need to know so you’ll be ready when the time comes.” Be sure to ask them if they have any questions when you’re done talking, and let them know that they can come to you if they think of any questions later.

If you need help starting the conversation, or starting planning, an estate planning attorney can help. Contact the Law Offices of Dana M. Kyle to take the first step.

Categories: Estate Planning