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Discussing Your Estate Plan with Loved Ones

January 25, 2024

Estate planning is important for every adult, even those who aren’t wealthy or old. It is a way to ensure that your wishes are implemented if you pass away, including giving you the power to designate what happens with your assets and who will care for your minor children. You can also plan for your disability, such as who will make health care, legal, and financial decisions for you if you aren’t able to do so. While estate planning may seem personal, your family is affected, so it’s crucial to communicate your wishes to loved ones to make it as easy as possible for them to manage your affairs if something happens to you. Such conversations may feel awkward at first but there are ways to set the right tone for the discussion.

Why Discussing Your Estate Plans is Crucial

Loved ones should know about your estate plan to help avoid potential conflicts and misunderstandings. If you don’t tell them of your wishes, they may disagree over what you would have wanted leading to family conflict and even litigation. This may affect their relationship for years and cost your estate money. 

There may also be misunderstandings about why you took certain actions that will similarly affect your loved ones. For example, maybe you didn’t split your estate equally, or you gave certain items to one person over another. Without an explanation of why you decided as you did, your loved ones may be resentful toward you or each other. Discussing your estate planning provides clarity and peace of mind about your actions for both you and your loved ones. 

In addition, keeping everyone apprised of your plans fosters a sense of family unity and shared responsibility. No one is left out and can voice their concerns to you. They also can prepare themselves for what roles they may need to take on, such as being your power of attorney, health care proxy, or guardian to your children.

By communicating your wishes before your passing, your beneficiaries and executor are much more likely to understand your wishes and feel comfortable following your estate plan. 

How to Initiate the Conversation

Estate planning is a serious matter and you should think carefully about choosing an appropriate time and setting. It’s also a sensitive topic and may become emotional, so you want to do it when loved ones aren’t busy, distracted, or in a rush to leave. Most of all, you want to explain the long-term benefits of open communication, that this is meant as an ongoing conversation since your wishes and circumstances may change over time as will your loved ones.

What Matters to Discuss in the Conversation

You want to provide loved ones with an overview of your estate plan, including what are your assets and how you are distributing them. In addition, you should discuss guardianship arrangements (if applicable), advance healthcare directives, power of attorney, and specific wishes for passing on personal belongings. 

This is also an opportunity for your loved ones to voice their concerns or ask questions. You should encourage family members to express their thoughts as it’s best to address them now rather than have those issues fester and become a problem later.

Bringing in Professional Advisors

Legal and financial professionals should be involved in estate planning. They help ensure you understand your financial situation and that your planning and documents are accurate and comply with the law. They can also facilitate productive family discussions. If there are conflicts, a mediator can also be brought in if needed. 

Documenting the Estate Plan

Having legally binding documents is essential, including a will, health care proxy, power of attorney, living will, and possibly trusts. Just as important, is regularly reviewing and updating the estate plan as circumstances change. Births, deaths, marriages, divorces, health and financial changes, and new laws may necessitate revisiting your estate plan. When your planning and documents change, you should consider involving family members in the decision-making process when appropriate.

Building a Supportive Family Culture

While the first conversation about your estate plan may be difficult, subsequent ones should be easier, especially if you encourage ongoing communication about financial and legal matters. It can be helpful to establish a family tradition of revisiting estate plans together periodically, so the discussions become normalized.

Ultimately, you want to be proactive and have these discussions with your family to show that you care about their feelings and want to eliminate potential problems in the future. It’s a benefit to you and them. 

If you need a new or updated estate plan, contact us for a consultation. We can develop a comprehensive plan and help address potential disputes by guiding you in talking with your family and/or taking other steps to minimize the risks of lawsuits.

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