It’s no wonder that people struggle to talk with their loved ones about their estate plans. After all, estate planning sits at the intersection of two topics that few people like to bring up: mortality and money.
However, even though it can be difficult to broach the subject, a candid conversation with your family about your estate plan can help avoid hurt feelings, unnecessary arguments, and legal disputes later. Below, we’ll explain how you can approach these sensitive topics with your loved ones—and how an attorney might be able to help if you’re still struggling.
Change How You Think About Your Legacy
It’s easy to focus on your financial assets, real estate holdings, and trust accounts when you think about what you’re going to leave behind for your loved ones. While a good estate plan should protect your assets, distribute them according to your wishes, and minimize your estate’s tax burden, it’s also important to remember there’s more to estate planning than dollars and cents.
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You are much more than your net worth. You have a lifetime of knowledge, memories, and perspective that can benefit your children, grandchildren, and other loved ones. Talking about your estate plan gives you an opportunity to share your values, insights, and life lessons with the people you care about.
When you discuss your estate plan with your family and loved ones, you have an opportunity to share what you’ve learned about:
- Financial responsibility and planning
- Philanthropy and charitable giving
- End-of-life issues and your healthcare preferences
- Funeral planning
It’s also never too early to discuss finances and financial responsibility with your loved ones. Consider discussing your financial and charitable priorities with your children and grandchildren in an age-appropriate way. Introducing these concepts at an early age can help them build a strong foundation of financially responsible habits.
The Benefits of Explaining Your End-of-Life and Estate Plan with Your Loved Ones
While every family situation is unique and requires a different approach, we generally recommend that you outline your estate plan for your loved ones ahead of time. This is especially true for your future executor (the person who will administer your will).
When you discuss your estate plan with your loved ones, you’ll be able to help them understand your priorities and goals. You can take control of the situation, explain your decision-making processes clearly, and answer their questions in advance.
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Additionally, you can make sure your heirs have key information like:
- Where to find your important documents, including your estate plan
- How to handle your medical treatment if you become incapacitated
- How to seamlessly transition your children to a legal guardian who can follow through on your parenting values
- Your wishes concerning your business affairs and holdings
Any time there is confusion about your estate plan, your end-of-life preferences, or the validity of any legal documents, there’s a risk of delays, disputes, and litigation. The best way to keep this from happening is to have open, honest, and fair discussions with your heirs and loved ones now.
Tailor Your Estate Planning Conversations to Your Loved One’s Needs
So how should you discuss the sensitive topics of mortality and end-of-life planning with your loved ones? There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. Instead, you should tailor your approach to your family’s specific needs and circumstances.
You might want to meet with each person individually so you can personalize your message to them. Or, you might prefer sitting down with everyone together. Many people also find they would rather write letters to their heirs as part of their comprehensive estate plan.
It’s also important to remember that you don’t have to get into the nitty-gritty details of how much each heir will receive. While you might want to explain why you decided to distribute your assets in a certain way (especially if your heirs have disparate incomes or you have concerns about their financial responsibility), you don’t have to commit to giving them a specific inheritance.
If you need help navigating these issues, you can ask your attorney for help. A good estate planning lawyer should be very comfortable talking about these issues, and they can help you present them in a way that’s both compassionate and logical.
Input From Your Family Might Change Your Estate Planning Priorities
During your conversations with heirs, you might discover that your current estate plan needs a revision. And that’s okay — sometimes, other people have great ideas!
For example, your children might suggest innovative ways to share a cherished asset like a cottage. A financially successful child might ask for a reduced share of an inheritance so you can give a larger share to a sibling who needs it more. Or, your oldest child might tell you they feel incapable of making healthcare decisions for you on their own. When these issues come up, we can help you revise your estate plan to reflect your new goals and priorities.
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However, don’t change your estate plan simply because someone disagrees with your decision. While it’s always appropriate to re-examine your goals, stick to your position if you’re confident your current estate plan is in your loved ones’ best interests.
Struggling to Talk About Your Estate Plan? The Law Offices of Kari Santana Can Help
If you’re still finding it hard to have these conversations with your loved ones, or if you need help finalizing your estate plan before you start talking about it, the estate planning lawyers at the Law Offices of Kari Santana are here to help. We pride ourselves on personalized attention, practical advice, and our ability to help families in West Michigan no matter where they are in the journey of life.
The content provided here is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject.