The Secret to Family Estate Planning
Most of us don’t really like the topic of estate planning.
Even when you feel that it is necessary to raise the issue, it can be difficult to initiate the conversation once your loved ones are sitting right there. We have seen this firsthand in our office on numerous occasions and spoken about it privately with many clients who share these feelings.
But the fact is that more families need to have estate planning conversations, and that requires accepting the reality of what an estate plan is and who it’s for. At any time, your family’s primary breadwinner, head honcho, undisputed matriarch, class clown, or emotional center could become incapacitated or even die. Whatever your role in the family, is to the benefit of everyone else that they know what to do when faced with this kind of situation.
Here’s how to start.
Make your plans
A basic estate plan will generally include a will or trust, a medical power of attorney (also known as a healthcare proxy), a financial power of attorney, and ideally an up-to-date list of beneficiary arrangements and a listing of accounts. Your personal situation might require greater or fewer precautions depending on your assets and your wishes for passing them on.
Typically, the more wealth you have and the more complicated your plans, the more you may want to consider a trust over a will. Trusts give you more control over the way your assets are handled after death and can provide additional protections and safeguards.
The best way to determine which course is right for you is to speak to a qualified estate attorney who is well-versed both in the field and your local laws.
Hold a family meeting
Once you have an estate plan in place, it’s a good idea to communicate its contents to your loved ones. This helps to ensure there are no surprises should it need to be consulted and also gives your family a chance to ask questions, get clarity, and air their grievances (if any).
After all, sometime just giving everyone the chance to voice their opinion and have a conversation about it can help head future conflicts off at the pass.
Give your family a heads up that you want to talk about an important issue, and pick a relaxed moment and setting conducive to good conversation. In other words, depending on your particular family dynamic, it might be wise to avoid a setting that’s already stressful (for some families, holidays can fall into this category) and to pick a time when small children are otherwise occupied.
Go over your plan and your wishes. Be comprehensive, and cover issues like:
- Who should take over your financial matters if needed
- Your beliefs and preferences for end-of-life care
- How your will or trust splits your assets
- Contact information for important parties, like your estate attorney or financial advisor
Give your family time to absorb and process your plans, and allow for questions.
Most Overlooked Retirement Risk For Women: Widowhood
Just remember: at the end of the day, your estate plan is yours and your alone. That means your wishes do need to be respected even if someone does not agree.
If the going gets tough
Of course, sometimes differences of perspective can turn into more serious disputes. If you’re concerned about this, you do have options – though, as always, the appropriate course of action is very dependent on your family dynamic and personal preferences.
One option is to simply take a break. Let everyone gather themselves and revisit the issue in a few days, a week, or a month. If you feel everything has been communicated and it’s just a matter of getting used to it, you might not even have to raise it again.
As happens in families, sometimes we just have to agree to disagree.
You could also try working with a “referee,” or someone who can help lead the discussion and guide you towards understanding. Your estate attorney or financial advisor may be a good source of help, though some families do turn to counselors or mediators when things get complicated. Some families also turn to a trusted spiritual leader like a pastor or even a longtime family friend to help mediate discussions.
Of course, again, this usually isn’t necessary. After all, your estate plan concerns your wishes! However, there are situations where further discussion is beneficial, and in these cases some families really benefit from outside help.
Keep your family updated
If your plans and preferences change, or you have changes to your estate, be sure to share these updates with your family.
It’s also important to provide updated contact information for your financial relationships.
For example, notify your loved ones (and make a note in your files) if you:
- Change banks or brokerage firms
- Hire a new attorney or advisor
- Buy or sell a property or (if relevant) hire a new management company for a rental property
- Have any other important changes to financial relationships, contacts, or holdings.
This is a simple but critical step. After all, what starts as a minor change can sow a great deal of confusion if your family doesn’t know about it! Looking for updated account numbers or digging through files to find your new accountant can be deeply stressful for those already under emotional strain.
Again, this is a difficult subject for most – few people are comfortable with open discussions about death, disability, or severe illness, especially when it concerns their loved ones. However, taking these steps can help ensure that your family is practically equipped to manage these kinds of tough situations.
Making the time and the effort is well worth it.
Don’t forget this key estate planning issue
Did you know that 80% of Baby Boomer women will die single? Female longevity and marital patterns make this a very real issue – one that far too few families realize and address in their estate plans.
Download our free, three-part guide to women and widowhood to help put your plan in place today. We cover the key risks involved, how to address widowhood in your estate plan, and offer solid practical advice to the recently bereaved.
The Most Overlooked Retirement Risk Facing Women is your guide to tackling this significant issue.
Most Overlooked Retirement Risk For Women: Widowhood