The holidays are coming up, and it’s not uncommon for family members to ask questions about a relative’s estate plan over apple pie – or for the relative to bring up their estate plan as a conversation point. Generally, discussing your estate plan with your family is a good idea. It’s proactive to talk about wills and trust with family – it will give your family peace of mind that there’s a plan in place, the family feels involved in the process, and knowing what’s supposed to happen will lower the risk that someone will contest the plan in court. But, of course, how much of the plan to share will depend a lot on the family dynamics. So here are some basic points you can cover when discussing your estate plan with family:
- Is there an estate plan? If you want to keep things very simple, you can just let your family know that you have a will and or trust. (If you live in California and own a home, it’s probably a good idea to have both in order to avoid probate.) Knowing that probate is not an issue will ease your relatives’ minds, especially if the relative is likely to be the one who’d have to deal with the Probate Court.
- Will there be an equal distribution between the children? If you have children, usually you’ll divide everything evenly between them. It keeps things simple, and there’s no question of fairness. But in some cases, you might decide that one child should get a larger or smaller portion of the estate, which could cause problems. In that case, it would be a good idea to let everyone know in advance, with an explanation as to why you feel this is fair. It’s likely to be an uncomfortable conversation, but it will give everyone time to get used to the idea and lower the risk that a disfavored child will contest your estate plan in court. If you don’t have children, it’s even more important to let your loved ones know the plan since non-child beneficiaries are more likely to contest the estate if they don’t feel the distribution was fair.
- Are there specific items a loved one will want? It’s a good idea to ask whether your home has particular things to which loved ones are especially attached. Then, you can gift those items as part of your estate, and it would mean a lot to that person. There may also be items that several people want – if that’s the case, it’s good to know in advance so you (or they) can work out a fair way to decide who gets which items after you’re gone.
- What will happen if you lose capacity and or need care? If you get to a point where you cannot manage your finances or make your own medical decisions, you’ll need someone to pay bills and talk to doctors on your behalf. Part of estate planning is choosing who this person will be. It’s a good idea to speak to the person about this, so you know they’re willing to step in, and so they know that they should. It will make everything smoother in the long run.
In most cases, the more transparent you can be, the smoother things will go. However, every family is different, so you’ll need to decide how much information you feel comfortable discussing your estate plan with family and how involved you want the family to be.
If you would like to discuss your estate plan with me, or you have a loved one who wants to create or review their estate plan with an attorney, please feel free to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.