Should You Discuss Your Estate Planning with Your Beneficiaries in Advance?

Co-authored by Sharon LPalmerACP, FRP

When finished executing their estate planning documents, our clients very often exhale a sigh of relief. They exclaim how happy they are to, “have all of this over with”.

We certainly understand their feelings. It can be daunting, to say the least, to work on your estate plan, deciding who will inherit what and who will manage and distribute your assets after you pass away.

In fact, it can be downright stressful trying to determine what is best for your family and balance their competing issues and interests.

One child may be good with finances, while another may be better at interpersonal relationships and handling medical issues. One child may be financially stable while another is constantly in debt. One child’s marriage may seem secure, while another’s is unstable.

You may have a beneficiary with special needs that must be provided for, yet you don’t want your other children to feel neglected or left out altogether.

Certain situations almost always incite some form of conflict. It goes without saying that omitting a child from one’s will or trust may cause hurt feelings or resentments, but there are other issues that also inspire family strife.

For example, creating one trust for the benefit of multiple children, rather than having the trust corpus split into a separate trust for the benefit of each sibling, can cause conflict between the children themselves. Or it can create an imbalance if one child needs some of the funds earlier than the others.

Creating separate trusts for each child avoids conflict by allowing each sibling to have input (or even total control) in how the funds should be managed, and there is no worry about distributions for one affecting others’ trusts.

Another major cause of friction may be making one beneficiary the trustee of a sibling’s trust. Unless it is a special needs trust, it may be advantageous to have a disinterested third party or banking institution act as trustee. This may cost greater trustee fees, but it can help preserve family relationships.

The Best Way to Avoid Hurt Feelings and Conflict

No matter how meticulously you create your estate plan to avoid these issues, we always remind our clients that, at the end of the day, your documents are just a tool. Nothing can guarantee that your children won’t be hurt or fight amongst themselves once you’re gone – even if they rarely fought during your lifetime.

The best way to ensure that there are no surprises or hurt feelings after your death is to sit down with your family to explain your wishes in advance. This includes how you want you and your assets to be cared for while you’re living, not just after your death.

Discuss what “quality of life” means to you and your wishes regarding life support. Explaining the reasoning behind your plan will allow them to ask questions for further clarification and avoid assumptions or misunderstandings.

While your family may feel awkward about having “The Talk”, it’s better to discuss in advance than having your family guess as to what mom or dad wanted during the stressful times of sickness or death.

For more information or assistance with your estate planning, please call our office at (904) 807-2183.