Talking about estate planning with loved ones can feel unsettling for some. Unfortunately, the most difficult conversations are often the most important to have. In many cases, it is paramount to speak with your beneficiaries or heirs to let them know what your estate planning documents entail. Because estate planning documents are designed to protect you and your loved ones, talking about your estate plan before you die is instrumental in more ways than one. There is certain information that estate planning attorneys will strongly suggest you share, and other details that may be okay to omit.
Why Sharing Information Now is Important
Because your family is directly impacted by your estate plan, cluing them in on what to expect helps to prepare them for the future. Having conversations surrounding estate planning before you die can be beneficial in a number of ways:
- It can reduce the chance of disagreements later, minimizing the likelihood that someone contests your will.
- It can help your family to better understand your wishes.
- It can confirm that your loved ones know these documents exist and how to locate them after your death.
- It makes personal representatives and guardians aware of their roles.
- It can help children or other beneficiaries to better plan for their own future.
Sharing all the details of your estate plan is ideal, but, in addition to the more technical aspects of the plan, you should also share the following information with your loved ones:
○ Your estate planning attorney’s information
○ Your bank account information including credit card accounts
○ Copies of your tax returns
○ Any investment account information
○ Insurance policy information
○ Any outstanding debt
How to Start the Conversation
Too many people err on the side of caution when it comes to communicating their estate plan. This can be harmful not only financially, but also because it can cause arguments, fights, and confusion down the line. In fact, a survey by EstateExec.com found that 44% of people have experienced family conflict over an estate plan, regardless of the value of the estate. In order to avoid this, you need to have an open dialogue with your loved ones about the state of your affairs and your future plans.
● Choose an appropriate time.
Although a sudden emergency or health crisis may bring estate planning to the forefront of your mind, it is not the right time to bring up sensitive subjects. Instead, pick a time where there are not overarching feelings of fear, stress, or tragedy. When it comes to estate planning, it is never too early to prepare.
● Be clear about what you want to say.
Having these conversations can be tricky, and you may be challenged with a lot of follow-up questions. Be clear and firm in your delivery and stick to the facts. Keep in mind that leaving your loved ones in the dark increases the likelihood of confusion and decreases the chances that your wishes will be carried out properly. Try your best to be concise and thorough when explaining your plan.
● Pick a comfortable environment and keep a positive mindset.
It’s understandable—maybe even expected—for people to become emotional during these conversations. Having a serious conversation like this may catch your family off guard. Knowing this going into the conversation can help you to prepare your own mindset, collect your thoughts, and maintain a positive attitude.
● Stress the importance of having a conversation about estate planning.
After you die, your family will be grieving and won’t be in the right mindset to make decisions about your estate. Therefore, creating a comprehensive estate plan and communicating that plan to your trustee, personal representative, beneficiaries, or heirs ensures that your wishes will be carried out the way you intended.
Details You May Choose to Omit
By nature, estate planning documents are very private. Whom you share your estate plan with—and to what extent—is ultimately up to you. Sharing specifics about your plan with your beneficiaries is helpful in the long run, given your beneficiaries are respectful of your wishes. Unfortunately, if they are not satisfied with certain aspects of your document, they may lobby for you to change the estate plan. Additionally, you may not want to share exact financial details with beneficiaries or heirs if you are leaving them a large sum of money that would discourage them from working hard towards their future. If children are banking on becoming wealthy later on, they may become complacent or lazy. Taking into account both the estate planning documents you’ve chosen, and your loved ones, you can make the best decision for the situation.
The level of transparency varies from family to family, as it is largely dependent on family dynamics. Therefore, it’s important that you take into account the manner in which your beneficiaries are likely to respond to the information. Only then can you determine how to initiate an estate planning conversation. If you opt not to share your estate plan with your beneficiaries, you need to share it with your trustee or personal representative at the very least. Unfortunately if you create a thorough estate plan but do not talk about it with your loved ones, they may run into trouble in the future.
If you would like to create an estate plan, or need guidance on how to best broach the subject with your loved ones, it is best to speak with an experienced estate planning attorney who will take time to understand your situation. If you are considering creating a will or trust, contact our office today, or fill out the form below.