It is very difficult to answer the question of whether parents should discuss their estate plan with their children. When asked this question, my general answer is that it’s up to the client, but that the client should at least let the children know that they have made a plan and provide them with the estate planning attorney’s contact information. This way, should something happen to the parents, the children would know who to contact and how. There are certain situations, however, that may necessitate some kind of conversation about the actual plan.
Parents sometimes create distribution patterns in a will or trust that may surprise one or more of the children. For example, John and Mary Smith executed a trust wherein they named two of their children as 40% beneficiaries and the third as a 20% beneficiary. They did so because they had given the third child a loan to purchase her home and therefore felt she should receive less of the estate. Of course, if that third child thought the loan was a gift and therefore expected an equal share of the estate, she might feel slighted when this comes to light. A conversation with the children about the plan, and why they structured it as they did, would help to alleviate the surprise when the parents pass away.
Another important reason to talk about things with the kids is to make sure they are aware of where important information can be found. It often happens that parents keep things to themselves while alive and leave the children at a loss of where to locate important paperwork if something should happen. We always provide our clients with documents to fill out indicating where important papers are kept, but sometimes these documents are not completed by the client. Down the road, when we meet with the kids, they will often tell us of how they can’t find important financial statements or have no idea where the Last Will might be. If there had been more communication, the children would avoid this hassle at an otherwise difficult time.
Finally, it is important to note that lack of communication can cause problems during parents’ lives and not just after they have passed away. Important documents, such as health care powers of attorney and durable powers of attorney name agents to make decisions for an incapacitated principal. For example, Mary Smith executed a durable power of attorney naming her daughter, Buela, as her agent. This document gave Buela the power to pay Mary’s bills or manage her financial accounts. So, when Mary had an accident and was unable to do those things for herself, Buela would have been able to do them for her. Unfortunately, this had not been discussed with Buela and therefore she had no idea that her mom had executed the powers of attorney. The good news is that Mary recovered before too much time passed and was able to manage her own affairs again, but Buela was very stressed in the meantime.
While these sorts of conversations are difficult to have, they can save immense amounts of hassle when things change in the future.
Please feel free to contact us if you’d like more information or would like to schedule a consultation.