To best ensure that your estate plan functions as intended, and will not suffer from confusion, conflict or misunderstandings on the part of your loved ones, you should have a conversation with your loved ones about your plan. In many cases, these conversations may provide essential knowledge to your loved ones and allow them to better carry out your objectives than if they were acting solely on the information contained in your estate planning documents.
People may have many reasons for procrastinating the creation of an estate plan. Even after you've overcome all of these reasons and taken this important step, there's another thing you need to do: sit down with your loved ones to discuss the planning decisions you've made.
Some people worry that telling their loved ones about the detailed contents of their estate plans might create hard feelings. For example, they may fear that an unequal distribution between their children might lead to friction among those siblings. Alternately, others may fear that telling a loved one that he/she will receive a large inheritance may sap that person's motivation to work hard to earn his/her own money.
Nevertheless, it is essential to have this “family meeting” about your plan. Sitting down and having an open, honest conversation with your family will help remove elements of surprise about the terms of your plan and lower the possibility of a loved one making an emotional, hasty decision to launch a legal challenge in a moment of shock and disappointment after you've passed.
Additionally, this communication is particularly necessary if you are going to ask one or more of your loved ones to serve as agents in some capacity within your plan. Whether you have chosen your loved one to be an attorney-in-fact under one of your power of attorney documents, your agent under your living will, the executor of your will or the successor trustee of your living trust, that loved one needs to know that you have made this choice (ideally, you've already discussed this part of your plan and he/she has agreed to serve) and needs to know where all of your important papers so that he/she can do the tasks necessary to fulfill the objectives you've asked him/her to do.
By having these conversations well in advance, you allow your loved ones to learn about your plan in a calm and non-stressful situation. The conversation will allow you and your loved ones to have a dialogue, and for you to explain why you've chosen to leave the legacy that you have. These conversations can help your family avoid misunderstandings, confusion and strife after you've passed, which will help your executor and/or successor trustee carry out your wishes in a smoother, more efficient manner.
In many cases, these conversations can also give your loved ones vital insights into your goals, objectives and motivations and, for those loved ones selected to serve fiduciary roles (such as successor trustees or estate executors,) these communications can help these fiduciaries more effectively carry out your wishes than if they were operating based solely on what was written in your estate planning documents.