Few things are more awkward and dreadful than broaching the topic of death with family members. Estate planning often requires it, though. But how much should you reveal to your family members or heirs? Better still, if you’ve opted not to, is it because you expect problems were you to reveal the details of who receives what? If so, that might be the very reason to hold a family meeting now. While only you can determine whether or not you should meet with your family to discuss what they’ll receive, there are more than a few reasons as to why it might best in our contemporary society.
If you’ve ever been dealt an unwelcome surprise, you know how frustrated and perhaps even betrayed you felt. By setting the stage and inspiring a sense of safety in speaking about what could be awkward topics, you’re also drawing the line that could prevent heated disagreements after you’re gone. It can prevent those arguments that begin with, “You always were Dad’s favorite. What did you say to him to make him do that?” Not only that, but if your spouse survives you, it could be the questions and frustrations are then unfairly directed to him or her. This way, you have the opportunity to explain your reasons in as definitive a manner as you wish.
You might be afforded the opportunity to revise your plan if you realize one heir really would be uncomfortable by receiving more of your estate than another. Of course, you’re under no obligation, but if anything willed to an heir could prove problematic for him or her, you still have the opportunity to revisit your choices. One example – a couple decided to reveal what they were leaving each of their two adult children. One son-in-law would receive his wife’s father’s gun collection at the time of his death. It wasn’t until the daughter learned of this that she told her parents that she was divorcing him after two decades of physical abuse she had endured and hidden. This allowed her father to change his will.
Another example included a small business that a couple had built for close to four decades. It wasn’t until the family sat down and discussed their estate plan that they learned one child really wanted nothing to do with it – and never did. He had put his own dreams on hold to help his parents build theirs. This allowed the parents to revise their plans so that the child who did not want the business could be left a sizeable insurance policy instead, thereby balancing the value of what each adult child received.
Another important consideration is the tax burden. It may be that a lifetime gift made now could save your survivors considerable estate taxes. This is important since assets often increase in value and what may seem reasonable today may be a massive tax bill due to appreciation in the value twenty years from now.
Bringing your estate front and center will also provide you the opportunity to double check your own intentions. A client had come to us after meeting with his family to explain his will. He hadn’t made changes in nearly twenty five years and when he initially created the will in another state, he had made provisions for his grandchildren. Unfortunately, there had been no grandchildren born in the years since. He knew that until he changed his will, he could be leaving his family and his estate vulnerable.
These are just a few of the reasons you should at least consider when making this choice. We stand ready to provide any assistance or guidance you might need and if you’ve not updated your estate plan in the past few years, it might be a good time for a review.
The Law Offices of Barton P. Levine is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.