We spend a lot of time helping our clients make sure their estate plans are as comprehensive as possible. I’ve seen enough estates settled with critical components or provisions missing to be convinced that the effort spent on estate planning is well worth the time it takes to put them in place.
Your estate plan should be carefully crafted to address your specific needs and circumstances. The more tailored your plan, the less room there is for family disagreements. Unfortunately, you won’t be around to see the benefits of your care and concern. Your heirs, unless they have seen inadequate estate plans, also may not appreciate the nightmares that can result from a failure to plan. The best estate plans preserve both your values and family harmony.
Your estate plan can make your heirs’ lives easier. But it is your parents’ estate planning that will make your life easier. You or your siblings will probably have to settle the estate and potentially have to go to court to resolve matters. Good intentions don’t count if they aren’t documented legally.
Today’s generation of seniors are often much more comfortable talking about sexuality than they are talking about money. Finances have become the new family taboo. Any breach of this protocol is seen as distasteful. My own family, however, was refreshingly open about their finances.
As long as I can remember, my father has taken time at each family vacation to review the family’s estate plan. And now every January he sends updated financial information. I knew as a very young child who I would live with if my parents were both killed in an accident. And I knew how they had prepared to pay for my college education if they were not around to take care of it themselves.
As an adult I know who will serve as executor and the details of my father’s finances. It is a long list that includes account and policy numbers as well as contact addresses and phone numbers. It is signed “Love, Dad,” which it is–a loving gift of both trust and peace of mind that parents can give to their children.
None of this fosters an expectation of what I might inherit someday. I hope my father enjoys every dime of his money, and I don’t plan on inheriting a cent. Whatever our parents own is completely theirs, to do with as they see fit. They can leave the entire amount to their favorite charity or in trust to take care of their pet cats. But it is always better when parents deliberately choose how they want their money disbursed and act accordingly.
Not planning at all is obviously an option people can choose, but the consequence could be a complete failure of their vision of what they would want to happen. To repeat an essential point: All the promises and good intentions count for little without the paperwork to back them up. Planning, documenting and sharing that vision frankly increases its likelihood of reaching fulfillment as well as leaving a legacy that better reflects your values and the reasoning behind your actions.
Finally, estate planning goes both ways. Many parents want to ensure that their children will be cared for at least until they graduate from college. Now that the children are adults, they want to know their parents have enough to cover a comfortable retirement. When parents share the details of their estate planning with their children, it helps their offspring plan in case they feel the need to supplement their parents’ standard of living. I’ve known children who assumed because of their parents’ frugal lifestyle that they would probably be required to assist their elders. They did not realize their parents had a more than adequate retirement plan with money left over in case of an emergency.
Although I encourage these discussions, I know that not every family has developed the ability to speak openly in love. It is a progression that takes a certain spiritual maturity in both parties. If one of your children is also the executor of your estate, however, it is essential to start that process.