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Parents - No Estate Planning Secrets!

Three generations of a family and two dogs at a family get together outside on a summer day.
Three generations of a family spending quality time together.

Over 20 years of estate planning experience has taught me a lot about what parents should and should not share with their children. Too often, a parent may insist on discussing unimportant or trivial matters and refuse to share the important matters such as how they decided who would receive an heirloom. As a Wall Street Journal article several years ago recommended, disclosing the specifics about your will or trust can be very beneficial to your children (“Five Reasons for Parents to Reveal Estate Plans”, Sept. 21, 2014).

The benefits of disclosing the contents of your estate plan can be significant. Not only can it help avoid hard feelings or fighting among children, but the input from children can be extremely helpful. While in some instances full disclosure may not be appropriate, here are a few reasons for parents not to keep secrets about their estate plan:

1. Avoid hard feelings. Anger over a parent’s will can last a lifetime especially if the distributions to children are unequal. Discussing for example, the reason for giving more money to a child that isn’t as well off as other children can help everyone better understand their parent’s decision and alleviate hurt feelings.

2. Avoid mistakes and hassles. Parents often refuse to share anything regarding their legal or financial business with their children. As a result, when parents die or become disabled, children are left scrambling to figure out what their parents owned and whether they even had a will or trust. The loss of a parent is difficult enough without also having to sort out all the legal and financial issues.

3. Children can provide some good advice. Sometimes a parent’s decision over who to nominate as their trustee, health care or financial agent, or personal representative may not be the best choice. Perhaps a child does not have the time to handle the responsibilities or is not comfortable making such decisions. By discussing it with children ahead of time, a parent can nominate a child who is better able to handle such matters.

Designing an estate plan is beneficial not only for parents, but also for their children. Keeping it a secret can sometimes lead to serious problems. A better approach is to discuss it with your children so that everyone benefits.

This blog post is written by Brett A. Howell, Certified Elder Law Attorney. The blog is written as a service of The Elder and Estate Planning Law Firm, P.L.L.C. This information is for general informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. For a consultation to address specific questions, please call (810) 953-3846.


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