How to Talk about your Will with Family

Earlier this week we covered whether or not you should discuss your estate plan with friends and family. Here, we explain how to do it most effectively.
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How to Talk about your Will with Family

Leah Del Percio
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Upon reviewing a Will following the passing of a family member often there are disagreements among families. They begin to argue and question the wishes and intentions of their deceased parent or family member believing they simply could not have intended to do what they did.

In our previous post, we discussed the benefits of sharing your wishes and some of the details outlined in your Will, particularly with beneficiaries and those making health decisions on your behalf. We also talked about whether to inform your beneficiaries of your intentions while you’re still alive and how such conversations relate to the likelihood of a contest after your death.

If you have made decisions about how to treat your family and friends, letting them know ahead of time provides an opportunity to digest the information but beware, this could invite them to try to convince you to changes, resulting in an uncomfortable situation or worse, lasting family feuds.

Depending on your family relationships, you may wish to choose one of your children to act as the trustee, personal representative/executor, and agent. Actions such as appointing people to certain roles, especially if you choose a corporate fiduciary instead of a family member, could upset (or sometimes relieve) others if and when they find out.  

In addition, the topic of your passing can be unpleasant for everyone involved as it deals with a subject they may prefer to avoid.

Though some prefer to leave a note, letter, or even a video for their intended beneficiaries and family members to explain why they designed their estate plan a certain way. However, we strongly urge you to consult with an attorney before preparing something like that, as such writings, videos, and voice recordings are admissible as evidence (including any rough drafts, or deleted outtakes). Additionally, one-on-one meetings about your estate plan with family members often present their own problems from an evidentiary standpoint in a litigated estate.

If you believe your estate plan will cause World War III among your family members, we recommend you consult with an experienced estate attorney to coordinate an “all hands on deck” family meeting, with witnesses and that attorney present, to discuss your estate plan and set expectations. This way, everyone could hear the same information, at the same time, in front of objective observers with “no skin in the game.” By choosing to share your estate plan now, you can get those discussions out of the way and keep everyone on the same page, whether they like it or not.

Even for those with a straightforward estate plan where family members are one cohesive group, it can still be a good idea to get together with family, as a group to review and discuss their estate planning documents in one sitting. We recommend this for many of our clients who have a Trustate Toolkit. Setting up such a meeting provides a chance to share your estate plan with all of the primary participants, and to clear the air and assure everyone in the meeting that this really is what you want.

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