Clients often wonder if they should share their estate plans with their children. Now, these are not clients who are setting up elaborate trusts with millions of dollars that will flow down to future generations, these are just regular people who worked hard all of their lives and are now trying to figure out how to best divide up their estate. My answer to this question is, of course, it depends.
If you are dividing your estate up equally among all of your children, you may think there is no need to discuss your plans with them. However, if you are appointing one of them as the executor/executrix, you should let that person know that you are planning on appointing them, and you should let the others know your choice. If you can’t decide who to appoint, you might want to talk to your children to find out if they have a preference. One might be better equipped to take over management of your finances when the time comes, while another feels more comfortable making medical decisions.
It gets trickier if you have a child with financial, drug or alcohol problems who you’ve either chosen to disinherit or have made special provisions for through a Trust. Often times, in cases like this, inheriting a large sum of money (even $10,000.00 at one time) could be harmful or deadly to someone with drug or alcohol problems. If you are in contact with this child and you think they would understand the reasons for your decisions, you may want to talk to them. If you are not in contact with the child or you think that bringing it up would cause problems, it may be best to not address it at this time. Be aware that your child will in all likelihood find out the way you’ve distributed your estate after your death, and may become angry at their siblings who have inherited more. You might consider drafting a letter to be opened by that child after your death, which explains your reasons.
Another time that it may be appropriate to talk to your children about your plan is if there is a home that you are planning to leave to multiple children. Getting the children together to talk about the responsibility of joint ownership, what the expenses of the property are and how to divide up the use of the property can be very beneficial while all of the parties are still alive. Owning real estate with several other people, even (especially?) family members, can be a big responsibility – both financially and emotionally and it’s best to make sure everyone is on the same page.
The talks can take place at home, at the attorneys office or even with a trained facilitator depending on the extent of decisions that need to be made, the type of property being discussed, and the number of parties involved. Making sure that everyone feels heard and that everyone knows what their responsibilities will and won’t be can make things much easier after a parent passes away.