Not long ago, the prevailing attitude among parents (especially the dads) was that their estate planning was "None of their dang business!" This, of course, referred to the children. This might have been generational. It might have been a response to children not listening to their parents. It might have simply been to maintain privacy. Whatever the case, it was very common for the kids to not know what the parents had planned or even if the parents had done any planning.
We've learned through experience over the last 30 years, that this did not help families cope after the loss of a parent. In fact, it was a recipe for disaster. We have a few tips for navigating this area of life to open the lines of communication so when the situation arises, the family is all on the same page.
- It's the parents' plan, not the attorney's. Parents need to be clear with kids that they have put together plan and it was very intentional. Being open with children from the beginning of the process can help them see that this is YOUR wish, and no one else's.
- Equal is not always fair and fair is rarely equal. But, kids need to know the why more than the what. You can't assume they'll understand your reasoning for a particular decision. These decisions can range from who is the executor of the estate to why assets are being distributed in a certain way. If you talk to them now, they won't have to imagine, hold gruges, or fight. They may anyway, but at least you'll know you did what you could.
- All families have interesting dynamics. The loss of a parent can bring out the worst in the kids and an unclear plan can be the basis for a great fight. If decisions are made ahead of time by the parents, and kids are in the loop about their wishes, a lot of mess and heartache can be avoided.
- Don't set up any of your kids for a fight by putting them in a position (personal representative, trustee) they don't have the skill set for. (Get a professional if necessary.)
- Talk to the kids. It is their business. They don't need all of the financial details, but they do need to know that mom and dad thought about this and put together the plan. The more they know (maybe not details, but motivations, thought processes, and reassurance of wishes), the better off everyone will be.
We hope this helps you moving forward. Planning can be uncomfortable for many reasons, and we understand. But inevitably NOT planning is much, much worse. So once you put the plan in place, be sure to communicate your wishes to your children and loved ones. Want some help getting started? We'd love to talk to you about the steps you can take now to protect yourself and your family. Contact our office today.