Editor's Note: The information in this column is not intended as legal advice but to provide a general understanding of the law. Any readers with a legal problem, including those whose questions are addressed here, should consult an attorney for advice on their particular circumstances.
For years I have talked about the importance of estate planning and how children may want to breach the subject with their parents. However, it is also an opportunity for parents to teach their children? You want to do what is best for your children but perhaps you are legitimately concerned that your children are too young or busy. Maybe you fear a conversation about estate planning will be perceived as morbid or will not deliver the message you intend, or you just think it is too personal or confusing to discuss. For these and many other reasons, it is certainly an easy discussion to put off. However, with the holidays just passing, I wanted to review three important reasons to take the plunge and have this critical conversation with your children.
Number one, It is Practical. Put simply, if you want things done according to plan, you need to communicate the plan. Most children we speak with do actually want to know about their parents’ arrangements and wishes so they can help carry them out. Even if you choose not to share the financial details, at a minimum, we recommend discussing two basic things with your children. First, tell them the location of and how to get access to your important documents. Second, tell them the people on your “team” (e.g. financial advisor, accountant, attorney) that they should contact immediately after your death. This may seem obvious but preparing them for the actions they will need to take at your death will alleviate unnecessary stress for them during the emotional time immediately after.
Second, although your estate plan documents detail what goes where, they usually do not explain why. For example, unequal distributions or receipt of large sums or complex assets may be confusing to your children without the proper context or instructions. Communicating with your kids now, either one-on-one or in a family meeting can help to avoid confusion or hurt feelings after your death. It is also a great opportunity to share your values with the next generation so that they can continue your legacy. If you cannot find the courage for a conversation, at least consider writing your wishes and objectives in a non-binding letter format to keep with your other important papers.
As a parent, you have been given the privilege of leading your children by example. If you discuss the importance of estate planning with them now, you can teach them not only what you have learned about the process but also emphasize why it is critical for them to undertake as well. In addition, recognize that your estate plan may impact the planning that your children implement for their own families.
Don’t keep your kids in the dark or let the opportunity to communicate the plan, your “why”, and the importance of the process slip by. It can be as simple as starting with “I know you might think of this as an uncomfortable topic, but it is important to discuss it so you are prepared.”
I have helped many families by not only preparing the parent’s estate plan, but also, helping set up an initial plan for their children’s young families. Perhaps the young family doesn’t think it is necessary or they are too caught up in their careers or children’s (those adorable grandchildren) activities. Just having the discussing with the family provides a teaching moment that helps young families understand the importance of putting together an estate plan and building relationships with advisors.
In addition, estate planning attorneys have experience planning and conducting family meetings and would be happy to help you start the conversation by arranging one or more meetings at your request. If you would like to set up your estate plan, simply review an older plan or perhaps help your children get started establishing an estate plan, then contact an attorney experienced in estate planning.
Sam A. Moak is an attorney with the Huntsville law firm of MOAK & MOAK, P.C. He is licensed to practice in all fields of law by the Supreme Court of Texas and is a Member of the State Bar College. www.moakandmoak.com