Some Thoughts on Sharing Your Estate Plan with Your Family

It is a very personal decision to determine whether to share your estate plan with your family. Except for the most extreme of circumstances, you will never be required to share the plan while you are alive. So, when the question of whether to share the plan is asked of me as an estate planner, instead of answering the question for the client, I encourage the client to focus on their own values and the personalities of their children and other family members involved.

Ultimately, many clients decide to share some, but not all, of their plan. And specifically, through the process of sharing, clients often find that the entire family is able to relax and feel confident that the plan in place will make everyone’s lives easier when the time comes to administer it. On this note, here are a few general suggestions that will hopefully help you work through your own unique situation:

• Estate planning is about more than death, so approach the conversation with positivity and an emphasis on planning ahead. Sharing your ‘big picture’ values is of paramount importance if you decide to share your plan. These values may include your intent with preserving wealth for future generations, the importance of charitable giving, and any other items that are particular significance to you. Helping your family to understand how your values have affected your plan will educate them on the purpose behind it, as well as encourage your family to respect your wishes going forward. Additionally, if your children are receiving their inheritance outright, then that is one factor that may make you more comfortable with sharing the details of your plan with them. On the other hand, if they are not receiving their inheritance outright, it may be even more important to explain to them how the plan has been structured, which may include a structure aimed at protecting your children’s inheritance from their own creditor issues or a potential divorce, preserving eligibility for government assistance for any children with special needs, controlling spending habits of any children that struggle with financial management, etc.

• Target the items that are easy to talk about (i.e. the ones that aren’t controversial) and consider not going into detail on the rest. Depending on the situation, sharing who you have selected as your agents in your documents should not be a particularly controversial issue. Simply put, some people are better candidates for certain roles than others, and your children hearing you explain your decisions, as opposed to only finding out about who has been appointed to what role after you are gone, can promote harmony. Additionally, if you have decided to provide for your children equally (and don’t anticipate that changing), then sharing that ahead of time can also promote harmony and ease tension. On the other hand, if you have different plans for each of your children, then it is advisable to share that information with them privately (if you are going to share it at all), as there will be less likelihood of conflict between your children after you are gone (the worst-case-scenario involving a potential challenge to the validity of your plan).

• If conflict arises or you change your mind about sharing too much information, retreat back to the bare minimum basics. No matter what happens, I encourage clients to at least tell their family the following: (i) that you have an estate plan and where the documents are located (as long as the documents are in a secure location); (ii) who your key advisors are (your estate planning attorney, your financial planner, your accountant, etc.); and (iii) what immediate steps to take when you die (who to contact, whether you have made arrangements for cremation and/or burial, etc.). These apply especially to any family members that you have selected as your initial successor agents in your documents.

If you have further questions or would like to discuss estate planning, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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