Talking with Your Family About Your Estate Plan

Is it time to have “the talk” with your kids?  We’re not talking about a “birds and bees” talk but one that is equally important, perhaps more so.

Everyone has concerns about what will happen when they die.  Some people worry about their homes, cars, or money.  Others worry about their children.  Rare, however, is the person who actually wants to talk about these things with their families.

Opening these conversations with your family will be difficult, but nowhere near as difficult as it would be on your family in the absence of advance planning. Fortunately, there are steps you can take before the conversation – and during the conversation – to help it go more smoothly.

Preparation Is Key

As with many things in life, preparation is a key to success in these conversations.  First, when you choose important decision makers, make sure you match the skills of the person to the job. For example, the executor of a will must be able to gather assets, prepare paperwork, handle finances, and deal with potential family disputes.  It would be unwise to select an executor who lacks these capabilities.

Too often, people choose executors, trustees, guardians, and powers of attorney based on emotions or arbitrary factors, such as who is the oldest child or who might be offended if not chosen.  These are difficult, demanding jobs, and you need to choose people who can handle them. It also helps to talk these issues through with an experienced attorney or confidant in advance of making your selections.

Next, prepare your paperwork before your family meeting.  Work with your lawyer to make the best decisions possible, and commit them to writing.  This will help reduce any misunderstandings about your wishes.

Before the meeting with your family, consider the questions that may arise.  For example, if you are concerned that one child will be upset because you named another child executor, be ready to answer questions about why you made that decision.  It may be that the person you chose is an accountant and would be well-suited for the job, or it may be that you’re concerned about overburdening the other child.  Whatever the case, be prepared to offer your reasoning.  Your explanation will go a long way toward reducing any hard feelings and potential disputes after you’re gone.

Come Prepared for Business

Once you have your family together, it is important that you not only let them know what your decisions are, but also that it is important to you that they support you and each other.  Have copies of your documents available so your family can ask questions about them.

You should be prepared to answer potential questions.  And remember, this may be an uncomfortable topic of discussion for your family members.  If someone just can’t get onboard, remember that you are dealing with your life and your assets.  The ultimate decisions as to how you handle them are yours, and you can even terminate the meeting if necessary. Also, make sure your family knows that your decisions may change as time goes on.

Finally, remember the goal for this discussion is to provide your family with more than just a set of legal documents outlining your wishes.  By talking to them about your intentions you are helping them gain understanding, comfort, and even buy-in with your plan.

This article is a service of Gratia P. Schoemakers, Personal Family Lawyer,® who believes in developing trusting relationships with families for life. That’s why I offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ where I can explain wills, trusts, and other alternatives to help identify the best strategies for you and your family. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk because this planning is so important.