March 27, 2014   Estate Planning

Hold a Family Meeting to Explain Your Estate Plan


Parents are often reluctant to share their estate plans with their adult children. Some may feel it is a private matter, only to be unveiled after their death. Many are afraid of creating relationship problems within the family, for example if one child is chosen to be a trustee or executor over the others or if inheritances are not equal. But explaining your decisions now to your family, in a general way, will avoid surprises later and make it more likely that they will accept them.

Holding a family meeting is a good way to do this. Ask your estate planning attorney and financial advisor to be there. They will be able to explain how your plan will work and why these decisions were made, as well as answer any questions. This will also introduce your advisors to your family members so they will be more comfortable working together in your absence.

Choose a date and time that is convenient for everyone and a place that is appropriate. The room should encourage discussion but also convey the seriousness of the meeting. Your attorney or financial advisor will probably have access to a meeting room; a family room that accommodates everyone can also work. Limit the meeting to adults; arrange for childcare if necessary. Have a beginning and ending time.

Make a list of topics you want to cover. No specific financial information or values of assets need to be disclosed at this time. This meeting should be a general explanation of what you have planned and why, in order to prepare family members for what they can expect and may need to do if you become disabled or die. Allow for and encourage questions and discussion.

Expect there to be some anxiety as the meeting begins, as these are often sensitive issues. There may be challenges with second marriages and blended families. Or there may be a child that you do not feel is financially ready to handle an inheritance. If trusts are involved, explain why they are being used. If charitable giving is part of your plan, explain how this is in keeping with your values.

It is important to give your children some idea of the size of any inheritance they may receive. With people living longer and long-term care expenses often lasting for years, there may be little to pass on. If they are expecting a large inheritance, it would be better to give them a realistic picture now rather than later. At the same time, it is helpful to prepare a child if a sizeable inheritance is coming their way so they don’t go on a spending spree, fall prey to a scam, or be afraid to use the money at all.


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