Wondering what an estate plan attorney advises his/her clients to say to their families about the plan? Read on in this guest post from Blake Harris, Managing Attorney at Mile High Estate Planning.
Estate Plan Attorney’s Advice
The details of your estate plan should not come as a surprise to a loved one after you pass away. This creates conditions that have the potential to destroy family harmony during what is already a difficult time. Knowing what the estate plan holds can help your family resolve issues in a more harmonious manner. At the same time, providing too much information may cause premature infighting. There is a delicate balance to strike that should result in your family being better prepared to deal with estate issues after you die.
Starting the conversation is often the most difficult thing because people simply do not want to talk about death. Getting your family to have an active discussion on your estate plan is the first and most vital part of involving them. Having an open conversation can help you discover any issues that may require making changes to your estate plan.
Telling Your Family
The first thing that you need to inform your family about is that you have one. It is important for your family to know, and it should give them some peace of mind to know that the estate may be able to avoid probate. Having this conversation could prompt your family to ask questions so that they then understand the nature of your plan.
What to Tell Them
The most important thing you can tell your family about your estate plan is the information they need to execute it once you pass. Share with them the necessary logistics of the plan. Each person who has a role in your plan should be informed about what their responsibilities will be, and given the opportunity to learn what they must do. This involves some of the following points:
- Inform the executor of their role in administering the estate and making sure that they are comfortable serving in that role and willing to do so. Tell them in advance of any possible major issues that you see in administering the estate. The rest of the family should be informed of who the executor will be.
- If you have children, discussing with the person(s) designated as the guardian(s) of any minors what the expectations for raising them are. They should know any preferences you might have for how the children are raised and the financial arrangements that will help them with the child-rearing costs.
- Let your family know what critical documents exist and where to find them. At the minimum, they should know where to find the will and the name and contact information of the estate planning attorney who helped draft the relevant documents.
- Discuss any living wills with your family since they are a part of estate planning. This will mean they are fully informed when it comes time to make vital medical choices for you if you become incapacitated. It will also ensure that they can put any other plans you have in place into motion if or when they are necessary.
- If you have any funeral or memorial service wishes, this should be a key part of your estate plan. It’s something that does not involve assets, but that your family should know about ahead of time.
- Let them know if there are any complicated assets that require special skills or instructions to manage them.
Another important thing that your family needs to know is the reasoning behind some of your estate planning decisions. They need to hear directly from you on why you want certain things done a certain way. This will help reduce some future conflict if they are able to understand the basis of your wishes.
How Much to Tell Them
As an estate plan attorney, I understand that these conversations may cause conflict, depending on how much detail you choose to disclose. On the one hand, you want to have discussions now in order to preserve relationships among your family members after you are gone. On the other hand, too much information now may subject you to pressure from your loved ones and could cause conflict in the short-term. Even if you avoid telling your family members any specific percentages, you will want to tell them about the values that underlie your plan.
For example, if you intend to donate a sizable portion of your estate to charity, this is something that should be known ahead of time. Alternatively, if you intend to treat different people in different ways, that should not be a surprise when the will is read. At the very minimum, you should have a summary conversation with your loved ones to tell them the general details that they need to know.
You have the ability to decide what and how much to tell your loved ones, but it is vitally important to tell them something while you still have the capacity to do so. Communicating nothing to your loved ones about your estate plan virtually ensures friction when you are gone.
These are not easy conversations to have since one does not want to address their mortality and there may be difficult topics at-hand. However, leaving your loved ones in the dark about your estate plan increases the chances that something can go wrong.
An estate plan attorney can help you decide what you need to tell your loved ones and how to do it. These attorneys do not just provide you with legal representation, but they are also your counselors. They have experience providing services to families and can give you practical advice for dealing with your loved ones.
About Blake Harris
Blake Harris is the Managing Attorney at Mile High Estate Planning, where he assists clients with wills, trusts, asset protection, and probate. Blake has extensive knowledge and experience helping families plan for and manage the transfer of their assets.