How to Talk To Your Family About Your Estate Plan

How to Talk to Your Family About Your Estate Plan

Estate planning is a subject that few families want to discuss because it requires family members to acknowledge a loved one’s mortality. However, discussing your estate plan with family members is important for several reasons. Working with a California estate planning attorney can help you address many of the estate planning questions that family members may ask about your wishes and the provisions you have in place for your estate.


Preparing to Discuss the Inevitable


You may have delayed discussing your estate plan with family members because you anticipate that the discussion may be emotional or tense. Some family members may feel awkward discussing money and property in relation to your death. Even in the best situations, money and death are typically two topics that can make people uncomfortable, even family members.


As you prepare to have “the talk” with your family, it can help to keep these things in mind:


  • Try to anticipate the estate planning questions your family members may ask and work with your California estate-planning attorney to develop simple, direct answers to these questions. Preparing responses in advance can also help you answer questions without becoming emotional.

  • Write down what you want to say in advance of your meeting. Preparing an outline and notes before your discussion can help you remain on topic, avoid lulls, and avoid forgetting something important.

  • Remind your family members that the purpose of this meeting is to inform them of important details about your estate plan to make things easier for them after your incapacitation or death. The meeting is not intended as a discussion of whether they agree with or approve of your plan.

  • You may want to also include details regarding your wishes for end-of-life medical care and funeral arrangements. Family members are less likely to argue about these decisions if you make your wishes clear to everyone during a joint meeting. It is much more difficult for a family member to argue you wanted another option when the entire family heard your wishes directly from you at the same time.

  • Consider having your estate planning lawyer present to facilitate the discussion an answer estate planning questions.


Your family may not want to hear the details of your plan; however, the information you provide during the discussion can save your family members time, money, and frustration after your death.

Important Individuals Who Should Be Involved in Your Plan Before the Meeting

As part of your estate plan, you will select individuals for specific roles in your estate plan. You want to discuss your estate plan and the person’s role in your estate plan with each individual before you meet with the entire family to explain the details of your estate plan.

Individuals you should speak with in advance of your meeting include:


Financial Power of Attorney — The person you appoint as your power has control over financial matters if you become incapacitated. Your agent should be willing to step in to manage your financial affairs if you cannot do so. You need to discuss how you want this person to manage your finances, if necessary.


Healthcare Agent — The person you appoint as your healthcare power of attorney or as an agent in your Healthcare Directive needs to know your wishes regarding medical care and end-of-life medical treatments.


Guardians for Minor Children — The person or persons you choose to serve as guardian need to agree to accept the responsibility of raising your children if you die. You should also discuss finances and whether you intend to name another person to manage the inheritance for your children.


Personal Representative — Your personal representative is the person appointed to administer your estate. This person needs to know where your will and other important documents are located and understand the details of your estate plan.


Trustees — Some individuals use one or more trusts in their estate plan. Each trustee should agree to accept the responsibility of managing the trust, know where the trust documents are located, and understand the terms of the trust.


A California estate planning attorney can answer many of the estate planning questions your agents may have regarding their roles and responsibilities.


Family Trusts and Business Succession Planning


Two important estate planning tools that your family members need to be aware of and prepared for are family trusts and business succession planning. A family trust can greatly reduce the tax owed by family members and your probate estate.  Family trusts can also protect assets and ensure that family members have access to income and assets immediately after your death–instead of waiting until property can be distributed through the probate process.


However, it is important to let your family members know that you are transferring assets into the trust so that they understand the process. Your attorney can be extremely helpful in explaining the benefits of family trusts and why you choose to use family trusts instead of a traditional probate process.


Business succession planning is also an important estate planning tool. Through business succession planning, you can prepare a family member or several family members to take over the family business when you retire or die. Discussing your business succession plan with the entire family can avoid hurt feelings or misunderstanding by making it clear who will manage the business and how the business profits will be distributed after your death.


Your California Estate Planning Attorney Can Help You Explain Your Choices In Advance


You may have seen scenes in movies or television shows in which the family lawyer calls the family together to read the deceased’s will. In many of these scenes, the family members are surprised by the terms of the will and arguments follow.


You can avoid hurt feelings, anger, and misunderstandings after your passing by explaining your choices for your estate plan in advance. Family members have an opportunity to ask questions so that they understand your decisions from your perspective.


In most cases, decisions individuals make regarding their estate plan are practical and beneficial for the family. However, family members may not consider these factors when they hear the terms of your estate plan after your passing. They may focus on the fact that you treated some family members differently, which can cause hurt feelings, arguments, and challenges.


Working with a California estate planning attorney while developing your estate plan and when discussing your plan with your loved ones benefits you and your family before and after your death.


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