Should you discuss estate plans with family?
The type of estate plan you have may vary significantly from what I have or what your neighbor has. However, one common question that may come up is whether you should discuss your estate plan with your children and/or other family members. Or whether you should ask people first, before naming them as your agent in a power of attorney, or as a personal representative or trustee. Whether these discussions come up will strongly depend on your family dynamics and your comfort levels.
In my opinion, unless you have a reason otherwise, it’s a good idea to discuss your plan with your children and/or other family members that will be involved upon your death. If your family knows what to expect, there are less surprises and therefore, less potential for disappointments and hurt feelings during a volatile time dealing with a loss of a parent or loved one.
It gives your family an opportunity to ask questions and understand what will play out. It also gives you an opportunity to explain why you did some of the things you did, and how some of your decisions were made. If you are treating beneficiaries unequally, perhaps because of the needs of certain family members, or lifetime gifts that were already made, hard feelings are likely to arise. Having a discussion provides an opportunity to speak freely to your family about your intentions. The last thing you want to do is create hard feelings between your children upon death.
If someone is being disinherited and they know ahead of time, they will be less likely to contest any estate plan and already know what to expect. On the other hand, it may be more difficult to restore a broken relationship, it will likely be an uncomfortable discussion, and then perhaps even more awkward if the relationship is restored and you get your plan updated.
It’s even possible family may offer you some input or ideas to incorporate into your planning. For example, if you were planning to leave a larger inheritance to one child who has more children or is not as financially stable, and you share these details with this child, you may find out that this child does not want to receive anything more than the others. Or perhaps you have a family business, a family farm, a family cottage, or hunting land. Knowing which children, if any, are interested in that specific asset can influence how you plan.
It’s also a good idea to have a discussion with your agents named in your financial and health care powers of attorney to address what your specific wishes are in regards to your financial and medical decisions. In order to best act on your behalf, it helps to know your priorities. Perhaps this person is not interested in acting, in which case you now still have an opportunity, while you are alive, to choose someone else to be your initial or successor agent.
Families that discuss these topics freely seem to have less family drama and problems after the death of one or both parents. If you decide to discuss your planning with your family, determine whether to talk with them each individually, or have one large family meeting.