No Surprises: How to Discuss Your Estate Plan With Your Family

By Cory Howes

When it comes to estate plans, many people are often confused about when and what to share with their family. There are several reasons for concern, ranging from worry over stirring up family tension to a concern that broaching the subject of powers of attorney and healthcare directives isn’t the sunniest of dinner table topics.

However, there are numerous benefits to letting your family know some of the key points covered in your plan, especially regarding your incapacity planning. If your family knows what your wishes are and understands how they’re expressed in your powers of attorney and living will, they will be much more prepared to carry out those wishes if the need arises. Telling your family about your preferences in the event of incapacity will save them from encountering an extra level of stress and confusion.

While it’s not absolutely necessary that you share the entirety of your estate plan with your family, it doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing decision. Here are a few different ways you might choose to get your family acquainted with your plan.

Option #1: Share everything with everyone

Total transparency is certainly an option, but it might not be the ideal choice depending on your family dynamics. This level of openness is usually only appropriate for you if you anticipate needing help soon or are already receiving help from your successor trustee and/or other agents. Consider what you would want to know if you were in your family members’ shoes. Too much information can be overwhelming and could also lead to disputes between family members. However, too little information can cause misunderstandings, stress, and time delays when the time to act comes.

Option #2: Share the basics with everyone

Sometimes, sharing a summary rather than all the details is a simpler and more effective choice. If you’re going the summary route, talk about how your estate plan works or “flows” without including any information about the specific assets. For example, tell your family about the types of documents in your plan and the function each document serves so that your loved ones understand who will be in charge and the general manner of distribution and management of your assets. This might mean explaining the basics of how healthcare directives, powers of attorney, wills, and trusts work. We can help you figure out how to best describe your plan in simple terms and may even be able to conduct a family meeting.

Option #3: Share your list of point people

Another route to take if you don’t want to divulge every detail of your plan is to simply share who you’ve “cast” in different roles in your plan. Let your family know who your trustees, executors, and agents are so there are no surprises later on and so they know who to look to when the time comes. If you sign a waiver with us, you can authorize us to provide a copy of your documents upon your incapacity or death. This option will help prepare your family for the future without overwhelming them with the specifics. It can also help maintain a greater level of privacy for you.

As you ponder how much to share with your family, take a moment to review your “cast.” If you were redoing your plan today, would you still select that person as successor trustee? Healthcare agent? Guardian for your children? Caretaker for your pets? Changes like these are fairly straightforward, but incredibly important to update so your plan works as intended.

It’s possible that none of these options suit your family’s unique needs, and that’s perfectly fine. We can work with you to create a custom strategy. Let us know how we can help you discuss your estate plan with your loved ones.