Downs Law Firm, P.C.

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When Should You Share Your Estate Plan?

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At some point, you’ll want to share your estate plans with your loved ones—and the first step in this process may be to hold a family meeting.

Now that you have finally signed a will and/or trust, should you share your estate plan with your loved ones?

We think of family time as gatherings for holidays and celebrating joyful occasions. However, there are times when the business side of life needs to be addressed. The best time to share your estate plan information with the family is when you are well, mentally and physically, according to the article “Financial Focus: Consider family meeting to discuss estate plans” from Vail Daily.

Should you have such a conversation? If so, when do you share your estate plan?

What should your conversation include?

The right answer is almost always the same answer to all legal questions: it depends.

I was talking to a woman today who was signing her estate plan and wanted to set up a meeting for family members to disclose her plans. She is single and has no children.

In many situations, I do not encourage you to share your estate plan too much or too soon. Certainly, the medical decision-makers need copies of your living will and health care power of attorney (advanced directive). We provide a scan of these to email to the decision makers, with the encouragement to forward that to the backup people and talk over your preferences in life and death medical treatment.

Who gets what at your death might well be another subject. If you give copies and change your mind a few years from now, are you obligated to inform the family of changes and provide updates? They don’t necessarily need to know your choices anytime soon unless you set that table now.

What are your wishes for your estate plan? Do you hope to leave an inheritance for family members, support a family member in need, or create a legacy with a charitable organization? What is the likelihood that you will change your mind?

If unlikely, the family meeting might be a great idea. You can clarify your thoughts with loved ones, especially if there are concerns within the family, such as a special needs member or economic disparities between siblings.

Be prepared for surprises. Your millennial children may be more concerned about you having a secure retirement than an inheritance.

If you have your estate planning documents in order, weigh carefully what to tell whom. What if you later learn that a child has a drug or gambling problem or a dramatic marital problem arises? Was it a good idea to discuss the plan?

If you do not have plans, make an appointment to meet with an experienced estate planning attorney to create a comprehensive plan. Your documents may include a will, a trust, financial power of attorney, health care power of attorney, and end-of-life documents. Give your family members a general idea of your wishes, especially for end-of-life matters. This relieves them from having to guess what they would have wanted in times of incapacity or upon their death.

With your main successor, share your estate plan details to the extent they need to know where to go and who to talk to if their role becomes needed. Please talk about the roles you wish your successors to play. You will need to name an executor to administer your estate. They should be asked to take on this role before the time comes. You will also need a trustee and a successor trustee for any trusts. Choosing the right person for these roles involves acknowledging who is more capable—just because one sibling is older does not mean they are the best candidate to serve as executor.

For some families, the best setting for a family meeting is their estate planning attorney’s office. In a neutral setting, people are less likely to fall into old behavior patterns (including spats) when they are in a professional office.

We offer a webinar on”What to tell your Executor?” It provides an avenue for your family to learn about your planning process without necessarily having the whole plan disclosed. To attend, sign up here for our blog and newsletter, and we will keep you posted.

Let the family know this is not the final discussion about your estate plan. Encourage questions and, if necessary, offer to meet again. If the initial groundwork is set, you will have begun establishing a legacy for yourself and your family.

Reference: Vail Daily (Jan. 25, 2024) “Financial Focus: Consider family meeting to discuss estate plans”