Last month I discussed how to avoid a Will contest. I noted that one way to at least minimize that risk is to talk to your heirs about your estate plan. It sounds simple, but the subject of inheritance is one that most people arduously avoid for a number of different reasons: superstition, fear, lack of knowledge, or a misguided desire for secrecy. Many adults, such as my parents, were raised to believe that money was a private affair, and that talking about it was inappropriate. But beyond that, many people simply fear that if they talk about their estate plan with their heirs, they will meet with resistance, disagreement or, in a worst-case scenario, their heirs will try to counter the estate plan with legal action of their own. If that scenario exists, then a revocable trust should probably be part of your plan. But that’s a topic for another time.
While in some families and circumstances these fears are justified, in most circumstances being silent about your estate plan can have more disastrous consequences. If nothing else, a refusal to talk about money or your estate plans with your children means that they will have a difficult time following your wishes in regards to your medical treatment or protection of your assets should disaster strike. Most adult children are actually eager to fulfill their parents’ last wishes, regardless of how it may or may not impact their own inheritance, especially if they understand why their parents are doing what they’re doing.
Furthermore, your plans for leaving a legacy for your children or grandchildren may clash with their own needs or plans. For example, you may want to leave extra money to a grandchild with special needs, but if that child is receiving government benefits, leaving a significant inheritance in their own name could cause a loss of those benefits. Or one child may be doing very well and has no need to add to their estate. They may, in fact, prefer if you gave their share to their siblings. Discussing your plans with your children ahead of time can prevent situations like these from occurring.
So the answer to the question above is yes — you should talk to your children or heirs about your estate plan. Talking about it will not only make it easier for them to follow your wishes, but it may even help you determine how you want to make the best difference in their lives