In today’s modern, fast paced, technology driven era, we are constantly communicating with each other. And by “communicating,” I mean texting, Tweeting, Facebooking, Instagramming, Snapchatting and my personal favorite, Words-With-Friendsing. The dinner table conversation is ancient history and the family discussion has become almost a foreign language to us. Although we have been able to transition to this era of self-reliance with minimal direct interaction fairly successfully, there is one area that still requires some face-to-face communication: Estate Planning.
Successful estate plans require preparation and communication. The preparation is generally easily accomplished through the help of an attorney, but effective communication can be much more difficult to achieve. It’s sometimes not easy to communicate with family members, especially when it comes to personal, intimate details such as your finances or posthumous wishes. Regardless, if you have a $100 or $100-Million estate, direct communication is particularly helpful in avoiding family disputes, stress, and costly litigation. But when does family communication turn from being constructive to detrimental for you and your family?
Not communicating with your children about your estate plan can leave them in the dark in the event of your death or disability. Subconsciously, many people assign money as a sign of love and affection. After one passes away, children (even adult children) can begin to question themselves and their relationship between both you and the other siblings. As ridiculous as this may sound, their uncertainness stems from how much property or money they received from your estate. This is where fights begin, lawyers get involved, and families break up.
Additionally, in the event of disability, not knowing your true health care intentions can be especially stressful on your family. The type of care you had hoped to receive, the amount of life assistance as well as who is to act on your behalf and why they were or were not chosen may generate arguments within the family, all of which, originate from the lack of communication.
On the flip side, what if you totally involve your children in your estate planning decisions? For example, you invite them to meetings with your attorney, you allow them access to your records and documents and you ask for their input on your plan. Is this not just an invite for unwanted, conflicting opinions from your children regarding your original intentions for your life? The increased financial knowledge may also prevent some children from working hard and developing their own wealth by relying solely on what you have accomplished. While involving your children in your estate planning decisions every step of the way may work for some families, it is a situation that typically does not fare well and often results in undue stress and conflict among family members.
So what is the proper balance of communication regarding your estate plan? Finding this balance is more of an art than a science. Unfortunately, there are no formulas for families to use that layout how often and how much information to convey to their children. And there is no way for anyone to say, “this is exactly how you do it.” Each family is different; some require constant updating, while others will require minimal communication. You know your family more than anyone, and it may be difficult for others to provide solutions that fit exactly with your family dynamics. However, there are some techniques that may be beneficial to you and your family harmony when you decide to communicate and have “The Talk.”
- Location, Location, Location. Choose a constructive yet relaxed location during a time where there are no major changes in the individual’s lives who are to be affected by your estate plan. It can be difficult to get everyone together and it seems the only time families see one another is during periods of great sorrow or joy such as funerals and weddings. Do not wait until these periods of extreme highs and lows actually occur. During these times, individuals may have intense emotions running through their minds, and it can be difficult to effectively communicate with more to think about.
- Be prepared, then prepare some more. Do your homework on your estate plan, or at least understand the different options you may have. This will put you in the driver’s seat and give you a voice of reason. If you are uncomfortable or unsure about the vast amount of technicalities of your estate plan, it may be beneficial to have an attorney present to explain the reasoning behind some of your decisions.
- Honesty is the best policy. Be honest and genuine about your estate plan, lay the truth on the table. If you have concerns about certain heirs, explain those concerns and listen to their responses. Be prepared with calm, collected answers should any disagreement arise.
- Explain, don’t argue. Explain why you want to talk about your estate plan, and explain to everyone the benefits of communicating the details before you pass away. Use an example of a different family that struggled to remain close to show the importance of the communication that will keep everyone together.
- Repeat as needed. Although one meeting may be enough for your family, it may be important to update everyone when you make changes to or execute your estate plan. This ensures everyone is in the loop and remains comfortable when changes are made.
Depending on your family, this communication may come easy or difficult, regardless some level of communication is necessary for a successful estate plan. Communication can prevent stress, make the transfer of your estate efficient, and ultimately keep your family together.
If you have any questions regarding how to communicate with family members about your estate plan, we welcome your call. And as always, if you have general questions about estate planning, including probate, health care directives, living wills, wills, trusts, power of attorney, and asset protection, please contact our Estate Planning Team at 701-297-2890 or send us an email below.
The information contained in this article and on this website is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem.