Communicating With Your Family on Your Estate Plan

November 20, 2023
Senior father and son talking while having coffee on sofa.

Preparing for a successful transfer of wealth to your loved ones begins with a comprehensive estate plan. However, many of us often overlook the crucial part of communicating our estate plan to family members and heirs. You may have worked hard to create a thorough and up-to-date estate plan. Yet, despite your best efforts, some of your loved ones may still experience emotional or financial turmoil regarding your decisions.

Take into consideration how you will manage the expectations of loved ones and provide for a smooth transfer of wealth. Make an effort to have open conversations and share information about what’s to come. You may have a modest level of wealth- or are a high-net-worth individual. In either case, preparing the next generation to handle wealth is a responsibility you should take on while you are alive.

Reasons People Avoid the Estate Planning Conversation

There are various reasons why most benefactors disclose little or no information about their wealth to their children.

Some people consider it impolite to discuss one’s financial status, even among family members. Others may worry their inheritors will become entitled and lazy. Or, they have concerns about opportunistic friends hanging around to siphon inheritance from an unsavvy heir. Sadly, some suspect their assets will serve as future funding for addictive or self-destructive habits.

The truth is, many inheritors don’t have a clue about the value of money and how to handle it. Reuters quotes a grim statistic that “it takes the average recipient of an inheritance 19 days until they buy a new car.” Talking early on and often about family wealth and inheritance with your children and grandchildren can help build generational wealth through learned financial literacy.

The Value of Discussing Your Estate Plan

There are steps you can take to avoid the potential for family discord, emotional wounds, and legal woes. Call your family together and approach the topic in a general way. The goal is to create a comfortable, calm environment that will eventually become more structured as you delve into details.

Some may find it beneficial to have their estate planning attorney attend the meeting. Begin with an overview of your estate planning. Speak to your desires to avoid the common pitfalls of inheritance and address any immediate questions your family members may have.

Do not overwhelm your loved ones with too much information too quickly. Some of the information you provide may take some time for them to digest. It can prove helpful to encourage them to think about further questions to discuss at a second meeting.

Be prepared to defend your decision-making process gently. Remember, you have been thinking this through for some time, and your inheritors may only just be receiving the information.

Sometimes, you may hear unhelpful reactions or witness contentious exchanges between family members. Consider these only an initial response. Ultimately, a well-crafted estate plan should address your long-term family goals and aspirations. You may see some family members react poorly to your decisions at first if they do not perceive them as fair.

Understanding the Steps to Take for Discussing Your Estate Plan with Family Members

You may want to begin by informing your loved ones about the location of your various estate planning documents, such as:

  • Will
  • Powers of attorney
  • Advance directives
  • Insurance policies
  • Lists of investments
  • Properties
  • Bank and investment accounts

Fully disclosing your assets and planning documents can go a long way in dispelling rumors or innuendo about phantom assets that can create family strife. Invite family members to express their hopes or concerns and ask as many questions as needed. Pay close attention to those family members you name to represent you formally, such as the executor or power of attorney. You want to ensure they are both capable and comfortable performing these duties.

Additional meetings allow you to answer specific inheritor questions and more fully explain your decisions when necessary. Establishing clarity in ongoing communications can help avoid future family infighting. It may also allow you to address existing family rifts while you are still alive to speak for yourself.

Managing your heirs’ expectations can bring out surprising insights about personalities and family hierarchy. You may want to adjust your estate planning based on the information you garner from these meetings. Should you make substantive changes, advise your family of these changes.

Guiding the Conversation With the Help of Estate Planning Attorneys

It is always preferable to communicate your estate plan well in advance of the reading of your will. Smoothing ruffled feathers while you are alive can preclude an all-out legal war. Help prevent your family from decimating your assets or destroying their relationships after you’re gone. All you need is a bit of foresight, preparation, and patience.

If you’d like guidance on how to start a productive family conversation about your estate plans, consult an estate planning attorney. Experienced pros in this field can help you present and discuss your legal documents. They can assist you in explaining the reason behind your financial decisions and how you plan to distribute your assets. Make open and honest conversations with heirs a central part of your estate planning.

Before embarking on any family conversations, you may wish to learn more about estate plans and family dynamics, The following estate planning articles may help provide further context: