Your children are now adults and you have either finished your estate plan or will soon be creating one. What happens next? Should you tell your kids about the estate plan and discuss what is in it? Or should you just file it away and trust that they’ll learn the details when the time comes?
This can be a very uncomfortable subject to broach because it combines two sensitive topics: death and money. No one likes to discuss their own mortality with their loved ones (especially sons and daughters), and very few people like to discuss how much they are leaving behind and to whom it is being given.
Whether you have concerns about resentment among your heirs or just discomfort about a difficult subject, it is too easy to just keep the matter quiet and never discuss it. But this could be a mistake for several reasons, which are discussed below.
Your family needs to know that you have a plan
Even if you don’t want to discuss the details, you should at least let your family know that you have created an estate plan and tell them where they can find it when the time comes. If no one knows about your estate plan, they may assume you don’t have one, which is essentially like dying without a will. All your hard work would be lost and your wishes wouldn’t be honored.
Additionally, you need to keep it in a safe place and let others know where it is. Ideally, you’ll also store other important information like banking documents, account information and passwords.
Having a discussion could prevent family in-fighting and possible estate litigation
If you have numerous family heirs (sons, daughters, grandkids, etc.), you may want to give them all an equal inheritance or customize what each person will receive (specific heirlooms and assets). This can be a wonderful surprise to leave behind, but it can also lead to jealousy and hard feelings between heirs – particularly if inheritance amounts are unequal.
The best way to avoid future squabbles (and even estate litigation) is to discuss your decisions with heirs and explain your reasoning. This can be uncomfortable, but it may ultimately make things easier later on. Grief can make people act in unpredictable ways, which is why it is preferable to avoid any surprises that could be controversial.
Make sure you have a plan
Whatever you decide to do with your estate, please make sure you formalize your intentions by working with an experienced estate planning attorney. Ideally, you’ll also decide to make your decisions clear to your family members and other intended heirs.