If you are in the process of creating an estate plan or have already created one and wish to update it, you should be proud that you are ahead of the curve. Most Americans don’t have an estate plan in place, and that can create serious problems when the unexpected strikes.
But now that you have or will have an estate plan, have you given any thought to discussing your plans with your loved ones and intended heirs? In most cases, people tend to name their children as primary heirs to their estate. But without properly communicating your bequest decisions or soliciting input from heirs, you run the risk of creating family tension, resentment and even estate litigation.
Why share your plans now?
To be clear, you don’t have you get your children’s approval before writing your will. The assets are yours, and it is your decision as to what becomes of them. But it may be a wise idea to have a family meeting where you discuss the terms of your will and provide explanations for any decisions that could be interpreted as being “unfair” or “playing favorites.” Even if siblings get along well as adults, the death of a parent can resurface old hurts and rivalries that no one expected. Discussing your decisions, clearing the air and allowing your children to ask questions can reduce the likelihood of disputes or litigation when the estate is being distributed.
Seeking input can be valuable
As stated above, decisions about your estate are yours alone to make. But when it comes to pieces of property, you may be surprised at the sentimental or practical value that each of your children assigns to a given asset. If you had two kids who were equally athletic growing up, they may both want to inherit your sports memorabilia. If your children always admired your jewelry, you may ask each which pieces they loved most. If you still live in the home that your children grew up in, you can ask to see if any of your kids would want to keep the house after you are gone. You don’t need to honor everyone’s wishes, but soliciting input can help everyone feel heard and help you make some important decisions.
Estate planning doesn’t need to be a secret
Most people are naturally hesitant to discuss their estate plans with their children (or other intended heirs) because it may lead to hurt feelings or discomfort. But isn’t it better to have these conversations now, when you can explain your decisions and answer questions? If you don’t do it now, you certainly won’t have a chance to do so when it comes time to divide the estate.
You’ve worked hard for your assets, and you’ll naturally want to ensure that they enrich the lives of those you love once you pass away. As such, consider starting a dialogue with your kids to help them understand what to expect and why.