If you’ve made an estate plan, congratulations! You’re ahead of many people who have been meaning to get around to it, but keep putting it off. Now that you’ve made your estate plan, you’re not quite done. A plan is only useful if the people who need to know about it do. But communicating about your estate plan can be nearly as stress-inducing as sitting down and making in the first place.
Here are some tips to consider when thinking about how to tell your loved ones about your estate plan. Put into action, this advice should reduce your stress—and theirs.
Advice for Sharing Your Estate Plan with Family
Now that you’ve made an estate plan, your first step should be to make your loved ones aware of that fact. It may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people come home with their freshly-drafted estate plan and put it in a drawer, leaving loved ones in the dark about the existence of a will, trust, or power of attorney.
When letting loved ones know that you have an estate plan, you should also, of course, let them know where it is. You may have it in a safe, desk drawer, or filing cabinet in your home or office. A safe deposit box is not recommended; the documents granting your loved one access to your safe deposit box would be stored… in a safe deposit box to which don’t yet have access. If you’re concerned about security or privacy, you may wish to keep your estate plan in your attorney’s hands, and let your loved ones know its whereabouts (along with contact information for your attorney).
Remember that an estate plan is more than just documents that come into play after your death. You should also have durable powers of attorney and advance medical directives prepared. You may want to give copies of these directly to the person(s) who will be acting on your behalf if they are needed, along with sharing the location of the originals.
Consider that anyone who needs access to your estate plan will likely be grieving and under stress when it’s time to locate it. Try to keep all documents together, along with a list of bank and retirement accounts, deeds, and other information they will need. This is no time for a scavenger hunt.
Communicating Your Estate Plan if You Have Young Children
If you made an estate plan to provide for your young children, you have some special considerations. Your will should name a guardian for your children in the event of your death and incapacity if the children’s other parent is not available to care for them. It should also identify a conservator of the children’s assets. These may or may not be the same person.
Ideally, you should speak to anyone who will be involved in caring for your kids or their property before making an estate plan: don’t assume; some people may be honored to be considered, but feel unable to accept the responsibility.
Ideally, you should speak to anyone who will be involved in caring for your kids or their property before making an estate plan to confirm that they’re willing to act in that capacity. Don’t assume; some people may be honored to be considered, but feel unable to accept the responsibility. This is an enormous obligation, and you’ve no doubt chosen the person(s) you feel are best able to handle it. You may want to ask that they keep your choice confidential to avoid hurt feelings in those who were not chosen.
Along with the estate plan, you should also strongly consider writing a letter for your children’s prospective guardian, sharing your values and wishes for how your children should be raised. The guardian will not be legally bound by such a letter, but may be grateful for your guidance.
Communicating Your Estate Plan if You Have Adult Children
Just because your children are grown doesn’t mean you don’t need to communicate about your estate plan. It just means you need to communicate WITH your children instead of about them. If you have chosen one of your adult children as executor of your estate, be sure they are willing to accept this role. If you think your choice of executor might surprise or dismay your other children, communicate your choice and rationale (for example, the executor you selected lives the closest).
Communicating about your estate plan is especially important if, for whatever reason, you’ve left your children varying amounts of money. If you have a good reason for that (say, you made a substantial loan or gift to one child during your life, and are leaving them less in the will), you’ll want to let them know so they’re not shocked or disappointed. Your will or trust itself may also contain language to explain any inequalities.
If you don’t have an understandable reason for leaving your kids varying amounts, consider not doing so. The inequality may cause hurt feelings and rifts between your children after you’re gone. Communicating about your estate plan with your adult children may help them understand and accept your motivations, and minimize the risk of will contests.
To learn more about how and when to talk about your estate plan with your loved ones, contact us to schedule a free initial consultation.