Talking to Your Family about Your Estate Plan

Category: Estate Planning

Talking to Your Family about Your Estate Plan

Making plans that address your own mortality isn’t always easy, but the process can be even more stressful and upsetting for the ones who know and love you. It can be emotionally difficult for our families to imagine what will happen after we pass or in the event of our incapacitation, and for this reason many families avoid mentioning the subject entirely.

However, neglecting to discuss your estate plan can cause major problems down the road. By keeping your family out of the loop in terms of your arrangements and wishes for after your death, you can end up leaving them with unnecessary conflict, stress, confusion—even hurt feelings. In some cases, it can significantly reduce the amount your heirs receive.

Alternatively, there can be many benefits to having an honest and straightforward conversation with your family about your estate plan.Click To Tweet Some of the major benefits are:

Empowering your family. By bringing your family into your estate planning conversation, you give them an opportunity to share their feelings, thoughts, and opinions. In doing so, you give your family a sense of empowerment, allowing them a say in their own future and giving them a sense of what’s ahead.

Clarifying your wishes. In some cases, your beneficiaries may be unclear on your true desires, and make mistaken decisions based on their opinion of what you would have wanted. For instance, they could manage your investments in a way you wouldn’t have advised, or use your assets to contribute to a charity you wouldn’t have chosen. By taking time to clarify your plans with your family and answer any questions or concerns they may have, you can ensure your wishes are understood and honored.

Determining competence. You may believe your beneficiaries are up to the task of managing trusts or certain assets, only to learn that they feel differently when you reveal your plan to them in your discussion. If they are not willing or able to take charge of an important asset or trust, it’s important to learn this ahead of time so you can adjust your estate plan accordingly. In many cases, it’s a good idea to shift the responsibility of maintaining or distributing assets to an experienced estate planning attorney.

Reducing conflict. If you don’t make your intentions and reasons clear beforehand, your estate plan may come as a surprise to your survivors. They may not have been expecting to receive—or to not receive—certain assets, resulting in hurt feelings and arguments over control and ownership of certain property. In worst case scenarios, survivors will contest the wills of the deceased after being unpleasantly surprised by their inheritance, claiming invalidating factors such as undue influence.

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After all is said and done and a settlement is reached, your beneficiaries may have lost a good portion of your estate to legal fees. If, for whatever reason, your estate plan does not treat your surviving family members equally, it’s in everyone’s best interest to share your decisions and the reasoning behind them with each member personally beforehand.

Passing on your legacy. Through an estate planning discussion with your family, you can impart your family values, philosophies, and history, ensuring your legacy will continue to live on long after you pass.

Starting the Discussion

Talking about your estate plan with your family and loved ones may be important, but we realize this doesn’t make it easy. Once you are ready to get the conversation started, here are a few tips on approaching the task:

Plan what you will say in advance. It’s a good idea to have at least a basic idea of what you want to communicate during the conversation, and anticipate the type of questions your family might ask. Try to think of what might surprise, worry, or upset them, and decide how you will address these concerns.

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Set a positive tone. One of the main purposes of having this conversation is to let your family know you care about their opinions, wishes, and future. Respectfully listen to their opinions, but discourage confrontation and irrational arguments. Try to help your family see this as something positive—a plan to preserve you and your family’s legacy for generations to come.

Bring in a professional. As estate talks can be emotional for all those involved, it’s often a good idea to bring in a neutral third party to facilitate the conversation. An experienced Florida estate planning attorney can help direct and structure the discussion, while answering questions and addressing concerns as they arise.

About the Author:

Christopher Q. Wintter is the founder of Wintter & Associates, P.A. and a board-certified expert in Trust and Estate matters by the Florida Bar. With more than 24 years’ experience as a practicing attorney, he also serves as an instructor and faculty member for the National Institute of Trial Advocacy (NITA)—the nation’s leading provider of legal advocacy skills training to practicing attorneys—and has earned the AV® Preeminent™ rating with LexisNexis Martindale Hubbell. He was also selected for inclusion in Florida Super Lawyers for 2011 and 2012 in Estate and Trust Litigation.