Granted, there are cheerier topics for the holiday dinner table than mortality and property distribution, but it is important that you discuss your estate plan with loved ones. This is the best time of year to bring up this topic since everyone is already together. You can avoid repeating discussions and assure everyone is on the same page.
Here are five tips on how to approach this discussion in a productive manner.
Prepare Documents First
It is much easier to be clear about your intentions and avoid dispute if you already drafted a will, trust or other estate planning documents. Start by explaining that you finished a will or trust and you have copies of the documents if anyone wishes to review them.
Not only should wills and trusts be complete, but also any advance directives and health care powers of attorney. Keep copies of those handy as well and let family know that your wishes concerning future health care in writing. This shows firm decision making and leaves little room for argument.
Do not hide the fact that you limited someone’s inheritance or excluded them all together. If your family is fraught with conflict, consider bringing in a third uninvolved party as a mediator when you share this information.
If the excluded loved one discovers this after you die, it allows them better grounds for a will contest. They may claim that was not your intention and even indicate that another relative exercised undue influence over you. However, if you communicate to them that this was your intention and have a witness there to confirm that, there is no doubt and few grounds to contest the will. This can make the probate process easier for everyone involved and maintain the value of your estate by reducing the chances of high attorney fees.
Consider Appointments Carefully
If your youngest child is extremely detail-oriented and has good math skills, it makes complete sense that you would choose him or her as your executor (personal representative) rather than the frequently forgetful older child. Never let birth order or false obligations choose executors, guardians or health care representatives. You want to choose the best person for the job. Keep in mind that may not always be a family member.
Inform those who will be appointed for various roles. Unlike disinherited parties, this often does not cause hurt feelings. Your sibling who already has children will likely embrace the role as guardian of your children more than the childless sibling who lives in a one-bedroom condominium. Also, your children will likely recognize which one of them is better skilled at managing your estate as an executor. The adult child who prefers making metal sculptures to filling out paperwork will actually be incredibly relieved that you did not choose him or her!
Even if there is a dispute over these roles, you control arguments by having these appointments made before you start discussions. That is why finishing your estate plan first is so crucial.
Conflict may be unavoidable but confrontation is not necessarily unavoidable. Treat this as an intimate discussion, not an argument. Explain your reasons for your decisions from the heart and avoid statements of judgment.
For example, if you reduce a family member’s share in a life insurance policy or business interest, explain it as, “The other beneficiary needs the cash to send a child to college,” not “You filed bankruptcy four times already and I know you will squander this money.” Keeping this positive reduces defense mechanisms and keeps this discussion positive.
Of course, you may have an adult child or other relative who will take offense no matter how you frame your reasons. The trick is to avoid the bait. If they look for a fight, simply state, “I expressed my intentions and they are not up for discussion.” Sometimes, the best you can do is make your plans known and understand that there will be hurt feelings no matter how you handle this.
Expect an Ongoing Discussion
You may not wish to bring this up at the first discussion but it is likely there will be updates in the future. Right now, you may have four adult children who are still single or in school. However, when you bring this up again in two years, there may be grandchildren or adult children who are doing much better financially than before–or one may face greater financial needs.
Just as you want to inform family of your first estate plan, also keep them in the loop when you update it. Avoiding surprises when you pass away is a good way to assure a better probate process and a reduced chance of a relative contesting a will or trust.
Prepare for this important discussion by completing the first step–the complete and appropriate Oregon estate plan FOR YOU. Call Gruber & Associates, P.C. today to schedule a consultation.