Estate planning can be an uncomfortable topic for some people, but creating a comprehensive and legally enforceable estate plan can provide several valuable advantages to your loved ones. For example, in creating their estate plans, many parents wonder whether they should talk about their estate plans with their children. While it can be very difficult to approach end-of-life planning as a subject of discussion with younger children, older Americans with adult children benefit significantly by having honest conversations about estate planning.
These conversations may be difficult, and every family has unique dynamics. When it comes to whether you should speak to your adult children about your impending divorce, this is ultimately an entirely personal decision. A parent may decide that while they want one of their children to be a beneficiary of their estate, they do not want them making important legal decisions on their behalf. It’s also possible for a child to have medical, financial, or legal concerns that influence a parent’s decision regarding what level of involvement they want them to have in their estate.
How to Talk to Your Children About Your Estate
An effective estate plan has multiple components. Property division can be streamlined, and probate avoided with a properly constructed trust, and the estate owner’s last will and testament can convey these wishes and final thoughts to their family. Creating a durable power of attorney and advanced medical care directive can provide additional peace of mind, dictating the estate owner’s preferences when they reach critical medical status or are unresponsive and unable to make decisions for themselves.
If you intend for your child to have any measure of responsibility over your estate, it is important that they understand their responsibilities as an executor, trustee, and/or personal representative of your estate in any probate proceedings that may follow your death. If your child does not understand these responsibilities, then they will not only be forced to contend with the emotional weight of losing their parent but also the legal responsibility of managing obligations they did not know they would have.
It’s unfair for any parent to leave their child in this situation, and an experienced estate planning attorney can potentially offer valuable guidance when it comes to involving your children in the estate planning process. If you have very young children, you may wish to nominate a guardian who will take parental responsibility for them after your death, and it’s important for the guardian to participate in your estate planning as well. In most cases, a guardian acts as the steward of the child’s inheritance until they become a legal adult. Explaining why you are planning your estate will hopefully help your child feel honored and more likely to respect your final wishes.
Benefits of Legal Counsel in Estate Planning
Working with an experienced estate planning attorney in crafting your estate plan can help you make more informed decisions about the elements of your plan and help your children understand their rights and responsibilities set forth by the plan. In addition, your attorney can help you arrange your estate plan in a way that you can later return and modify it if necessary. Others may prefer more rigid estate plans that cannot be modified once made.
Talking with your children about estate planning can be difficult at any age, but the older your child gets, the more they truly should know about your finances, your intentions for your property and assets, and your final wishes regarding end-of-life medical care, life support in critical emergencies, and many other eventualities. Ultimately, it always behooves the parent and their child to discuss estate planning openly and honestly.
Q: Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer to Make an Estate Plan?
A: You may be able to draft the framework of your estate plan on your own, but you would be unlikely to create anything that would be legally enforceable without an attorney’s assistance. Your attorney can make every aspect of estate planning easier, and they may uncover issues you may have overlooked on your own.
Q: What Happens If My Personal Representative Is Unable or Unwilling to Handle My Estate?
A: In the event that your chosen personal representative cannot perform the responsibilities set forth by your estate, a substitute can be chosen, or you can include your choice for a secondary representative in your estate plan. For example, if you have more than one child, you could nominate one to be your personal representative but stipulate the other child would take over this responsibility under certain circumstances. Again, an experienced estate planning attorney can help you go into as much detail as possible in creating your estate plan.
Q: What Is Probate?
A: Whenever a person dies without an estate plan, their assets become “intestate,” and their state’s law of intestate succession determines who inherits their property. Every state has different estate administration laws, and probate is the process of identifying, evaluating, and classifying estate contents under these laws and distributing them to beneficiaries. This is an arduous and expensive process for any family.
Q: How Long Does My Estate Plan Last?
A: It’s possible to customize your estate plan in various ways, and it will remain in place until such time as it becomes legally unenforceable for any reason. Some people will need to revisit their estate plans periodically and make necessary changes after significant life events. An estate planning attorney can advise you whether you will need to review and revise your estate plan in the future and how you will likely need to change it.
Estate planning can be challenging, but putting the necessary effort into it and being honest and clear with your children will benefit them tremendously in the long run. If you are unsure how to approach the topic of your estate plan with your children, or if you want experienced legal counsel in creating your estate plan, reach out to an experienced estate planning attorney with your concerns. The sooner you have a legally enforceable estate plan, the sooner you and your children can enjoy the peace of mind it provides.