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Should I Tell My Children About My Inheritance Plan?

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By: W. Bailey Smith, Esq. Yes, as I believe transparency is the best approach to estate planning. Transparency varies between families but at a minimum, you need to share with your family the actual location of your original documents, the names and phone numbers of your CPA, financial planner, and estate planning attorney. The more information you share, the less likely there will be conflicts after you pass on. Why do parents hide their inheritance plans from their children? Some families want to keep their children in the dark to avoid conflicts while they’re alive. Some traditional Chinese families believe that if they discuss it, they will die prematurely. Other families believe that finances are a private matter. Common sense means you should share your basic inheritance plan with your children. What do your assets consist of and how will they be shared after your death? Who is the executor? Who is the agent on your power of attorney for health care decisions? The best way to avoid inheritance problems after your death is to open your estate “kimono” now while you’re alive to see if there any conflicts among the children. After I complete the parents’ estate plan, I always suggest that they invite their children (but not the in-laws) for a second review of their estate plan. These meetings have been very positive and have avoided future family conflicts. Loving your children equally is not always sharing your estate equally with them. I remember a widow with three daughters. Two were doing very well financially while the third had always struggled. The third child was acting as the caregiver for mom living in the home for the last 10 years. While mom left equal amounts of money to the three daughters, she decided to leave her modest home to the daughter who was struggling financially and was caring for her. All three of the kids were content with mom’s decision leaving the home to the daughter. This is good illustration of loving your kids equally but treating them differently, which means not always dividing your estate equally between them. So after 48 years as a lawyer I believe transparency is the best approach in estate planning.

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