Some conversations you’d just rather avoid. I get it. They’re awkward, or they’re emotional, or maybe there’s the possibility of hurt feelings.
Unfortunately, talking about your estate plan could be all three.
Talking about end-of-life topics, financial matters, and who you’ve chosen for what can provoke lots of strong reactions.
Speaking from personal experience, it’s hard--maybe impossible--to choose a “perfect” time, and you might be unsure how much to share.
While your estate planning attorney can help you navigate these very personal decisions, there are still some general guidelines for what you should share.
WHERE to find your estate plan documents
Someone needs to know where your documents are. Period. The End. There’s no point in preparing your estate plan if no one knows that it exists and where to find it. It doesn’t need to be your parents, or your siblings, or your kids. But it should be someone that will know right away if something happens to you. You’ll want to make sure that other important docs are there too--bank accounts, property records, etc.
WHO has a job
If someone has a job under your plan, it’s probably a good idea to give them a heads up. For some roles, this is non-negotiable. For example, your healthcare agent needs to know that they’re your healthcare agent! If there’s a medical emergency, they need to be able to act quickly, have those documents close at hand, and be prepared for the emotional toll of making a decision under those circumstances. For other roles, such as a personal executor, while it’s ideal to tell them in advance, you could wait. . . as long as someone knows where to find the plan.
WHAT is going to whom
You are under no obligation to share the full details of your plan. Generally speaking, though, it is better to prepare your loved ones ahead of time for any unexpected gifts (maybe you’re leaving everything to charity, or disinheriting an estranged child). Losing a loved one is painful and emotions are high. These kinds of surprises can hit especially hard when someone is already struggling.
However, just so you know, if you are relying solely on a will-based plan, your entire estate plan--including what you own and who it goes to--becomes public during the probate process. If this is a concern for you, talk with your attorney about using a revocable trust.
WHY you went with these choices
While not a requirement, it can be immensely helpful to share with loved ones the motivations behind your decisions. Try to look at this as an opportunity to share your values, hopes, and dreams, and ultimately, your strategy for your estate plan. Even if you’re not sharing details, this kind of transparency can help your family accept and acknowledge your wishes.
Like I mentioned above, sharing this information is particularly important in cases where something unexpected will happen. Perhaps someone was not chosen for an important role, such as a guardianship, or perhaps someone will be receiving much less than they anticipated.
Particularly in these types of situations, if you are concerned that there may be hurt feelings, anger, or fighting based on your estate plan, it’s important to share that with your estate planning attorney. There are steps they can take to protect your wishes, even if someone in your family decides to contest your will or trust (that is, fight the will or trust in court).
These are tough decisions, but you don’t have to make them alone. As an estate planning attorney, I guide families through these types of decisions and conversations. I can help you brainstorm different strategies, talk you through possibly challenging situations, and just be there to listen without judgment.
Want to learn more? I’d be happy to chat with you about your concerns about providing for your family and managing the tough convos with your loved ones. I’ll be here to support you however I can.
Don't have an estate plan yet? Check out my post on getting started and then visit this page to learn more about the process, packages, and more.