Estate planning, a difficult but necessary process, provides you with the peace of mind that your loved ones will be provided for and your wishes will be upheld in the event of your death or incapacitation. Depending on the complexity of your situation, however, disclosing the details of an estate plan to your family can be a stressful prospect.
Most experts advise that giving your family a preview of relevant information concerning your last wishes benefits everyone. Initiating this discussion allows you the opportunity to provide context for your decisions and can also alleviate conflict down the road between your loved ones.
Here are some tips to ease that communication:
If possible, get input first. Before finalizing your estate plan, a discussion with your adult children and/or other main beneficiaries to get their input could save you time and money to make a revision down the road. For example, if there is a piece of property that only 1 of your 3 children would like to inherit, you can work to balance any additional assets ahead of time to maintain an equal distribution.
Take it one step (or beneficiary) at a time. Once your estate plan has been finalized, begin the communication with your main beneficiaries by having one-on-one conversations about the relevant contents. If there are any strong objections, it’s often better to address them privately before bringing the discussion to a larger group.
Communicate who is in charge. Your personal representative, trustees and named powers of attorney should be informed of their responsibilities ahead of time so that they can become familiar with any legal and financial situations. However, it is often advisable to notify the rest of your beneficiaries of the identities of those who will be in charge in the event of your death or incapacitation. By simply voicing your trust in the decision makers you have chosen, many legal and emotional battles can be avoided in the future.
Prepare beneficiaries before discussions. If you have decided to gather all relevant parties together to present the details of your estate plan, it is better to prepare them ahead of time with the topic of conversation than to hit them with a surprise agenda. By communicating the benefits of a such a discussion, you will help to put them at ease and make the meeting more productive.
When it comes to sentimental possessions, consider allowing your beneficiaries to make their own choices. While most legal challenges concerning estates focus on finances, bitterness can also result from a perceived slight due to the distribution of sentimental objects. To avoid this, some families find it helpful to allow heirs to choose the specific items that mean the most to them in advance.
It’s not all about money. By communicating your choices regarding your end of life care, you give your fiduciaries and other family the peace of mind that these emotional decisions are being made in line with your wishes. This can be accomplished through a designation of patient advocate.
What were you thinking? In an ideal world, all assets and responsibilities would be distributed equally among your loved ones. If, however, there will be an unexpected discrepancy which you do not feel comfortable disclosing ahead of time, write a letter to those involved in your own hand to make it known that your decisions did not result from undue influence. If you choose, you can also provide the reasons behind your final wishes which may provide some peace for those affected by them.
Communicate additional information with a letter of intent. Providing, in advance, the location of passwords, combinations to safes, insurance policies and vehicle titles, instructions for digital assets, and information regarding monthly bills can save your loved ones heartache and frustration during an emotional time.
Set up a revocable trust with an attorney or advisor as the trustee. If you anticipate strife among your beneficiaries, it is best to take legal steps that protect the carrying out of your final wishes from legal interference. A revocable trust, established by an estate planning attorney, is the most effective way to do this. In some situations, it can also be better to assign power positions to independent professionals instead of choosing one family member over another.
Get help from a professional. The decision to be candid concerning the contents of your estate plan is a personal one and depends on the specifics of your unique family dynamics. If you are unsure about how to handle this communication, it is always best to consult with an estate planning attorney for professional advice.