Should my Will be kept secret?

When to involve others in your estate planning.
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Should my Will be kept secret?

Leah Del Percio
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So, you did the responsible thing and prepared an estate plan. Now what? Whether or not you share the wishes outlined in your estate plan is your choice. In some situations, it may be in your best interest to let certain people in on the secret. That being said, it is important to note there are no laws in place forcing you to disclose your estate plan. Below are some tips to consider when making decisions for you and your family regarding your estate.

  1. Avoid blindsiding your family. To minimize litigation fees in the future; discuss plans with family and those in [or left out of] your will. While these conversations can be uncomfortable, they are so important; especially if your estate is written in a way to disinherit a person expecting to receive an inheritance. This might occur if one person is being favored over another. Sometimes, a Will includes very specific items such as property or assets left in a trust for one person and cash for another, despite both individuals bearing equal relation to you.   If you determine, after consulting with a licensed and experienced estate planning attorney, that this is how you wish to handle your family situation, it may be best to let the affected family members know about your plan so that you can set expectations during your lifetime and deal with the surprises and hurt feelings now while you’re alive and lucid. Be aware that this can backfire - if you say one thing in a meeting with family members and it gets misinterpreted or calls language in your will into question, that can cause a problem. These situations are usually best handled with a “family meeting” so that everyone hears and processes the same information at the same time.  In fact, if your family situation is likely to cause issues after you pass away, it might be best to have each family member sign a document that they understand and agree to your wishes and your estate plan and will not contest your estate plan upon your death. Quite obviously, a situation like this can and should be handled by your lawyer. If you have an issue like this during your lifetime and need help finding a qualified lawyer, please contact Trustate for assistance.
  1. Family Planning. For planning purposes, it can be helpful for your family members to know in advance what they will be receiving. For some, it is also helpful to disclose how they will be receiving it (i.e. in trust, outright, inherited retirement, etc.). Sharing this information with them will help to effectively manage their own financial and estate plans as well as carry out your wishes. After all, what they will receive will also affect their estate planning. So rather than shrouding your Will in secrecy, it may be more beneficial to provide a heads up to those included.
  1. Silent Trust Laws. If you are planning to leave assets to estate beneficiaries in a trust or trusts, by law, some states require the trustee to notify the beneficiaries of the contents of the trust and account for any actions (or lack thereof) that he or she takes as trustee. Though notifying a beneficiary is a task involved with the actual administration of an estate rather than the planning side, it is important to note that many states will require information regarding the contents of a trust to be shared and/or easily accessible for beneficiaries once you die and a trust or estate is being administered

No matter what, we recommend telling those you name as your Executor, Personal Representative, and Trustee (if any), as well as your Attorney-in-fact (i.e your “POA”), and, most importantly, your Health Care Representative or Health Care Proxy/Agent. You don’t want the people named in these roles to be unprepared or unaware if/when they are called to act. They are the people who will need to act — and, in the case of your Health Care Representative, act quickly, in an emergency or if you pass away. The person named as your Health Care Representative (as well any back-up people) should know, well in advance, that he or she will be the one to make a decision for you, and as such, he or she should have an idea of your wishes with respect to your medical care if the situation is dire. The person named as your Executor or Personal Representative should know ahead of time that they will have this role so he or she can secure your home and its contents upon your death. In fact, you may want to give him or her access to your home in advance to enable a smooth transition.


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