Estate Planning Articles

How to Talk About Your Estate Plan with Your Family

by Alli Thomas

Feb 17, 2022

We talk a lot about the importance of creating an estate plan, but one important detail people often overlook is discussing it with their family.  

Many people spend a lot of time thinking about their estate plan, meet with an attorney or advisor to set it up, and then never say a word to their children or other beneficiaries about it. While wanting to avoid this conversation can be understandable, it’s an important one to have, especially if you have a complex estate plan (it may even be helpful to have it before you finalize the some elements of the plan that can’t be changed, like irrevocable trusts). 

If you’re not sure how to talk about your estate plan with your family, here are some tips that can help: 

Consider your family’s special circumstances before planning your meeting. 

Perhaps you have a blended family, with stepchildren and biological children not receiving equal amounts of an inheritance. Or maybe one of your children has a problem with an addiction or is otherwise financially irresponsible. It’s not uncommon for families to deal with complex or sensitive situations, but it is important to have a plan for how you want to handle these discussions. 

Set up a time and location that works for everyone. 

If your kids have young children, they should arrange for childcare so that they have fewer distractions to contend with during the meeting. 

It will also be helpful for everyone to have an idea of how long the meeting will run. For most people, two hours will be enough. Depending on how complex your financial and familial situations are, however, you may need more time or multiple meetings. If you’re working with an advisor to create your estate plan, they can help you determine how much time you need. 

Most experts say that choosing a familiar, comfortable, and private place for the meeting is best. Many people wind up having the meeting at their homes. Having your meeting around a kitchen or dining room table might work.

Create an agenda 

Make an outline of the topics you plan to cover during the meeting and decide if it makes sense to distribute it to everyone ahead of time. You know your family, so giving them a detailed agenda beforehand may not be in anyone’s best interest. 

While creating an agenda may seem unnecessary or overly formal, having your ideas on paper will help accomplish a few things. 

First, it will keep your meeting on track and ensure that you cover everything that you wish while you have all the important players in the same room. When some families get together, conversations can to easily go off track. A written agenda will help you stay focused. 

Second, it may help your children or other beneficiaries to think of questions or concerns that you can then discuss with during the meeting. 

Here are some topics, in no particular order, that you may want to include in your agenda: 

  • Healthcare power of attorney/living wills 
  • Life insurance policies
  • Wills 
  • Real estate 
  • Tangible assets, such as art, jewelry, cars, other collectibles 
  • Trusts 
  • Desired funeral arrangements 

Read More: Five Tips for Avoiding a Will Contest 

Consider including your advisor or attorney in the meeting. 

There’s a good chance that someone will raise a technical question that you don’t know how to answer during your family meeting. Your estate attorney or financial advisor is a valuable resource, so you should think about having them join you, especially if your family already knows them. 

Consider holding a similar family meeting every 2-3 years. 

Lives can change a lot in that time. Marriages, divorces, births, and deaths may mean changes to your estate plan. You should keep your children and beneficiaries informed of these. 

Did you know that only 18% of Americans age 55 and older have a full estate plan in place?  If you’ve been thinking about your estate plan – or lack thereof – it’s time to put it together. One of our financial advisors can help you do just that. Click here to schedule a free, no-obligation conversation today. 

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Alli Thomas

Alli Thomas has worked in the financial services industry for nearly 20 years, with a focus on retirement-related investing. She began her career as a FINRA-licensed participant-services call-center associate at Vanguard, and then moved to Principal Financial Group, where she worked closely with employers, assisting with retirement plan set-up and design, selecting appropriate plan investment offerings, and maximizing employee participation through targeted education campaigns and enrollment meetings. Alli has also worked as a qualified 401(k) administrator and registered investment advisor for several small investment firms. She now writes about all things investment- and finance-related, leveraging her extensive experience and passion for retirement planning to help investors make well-informed financial decisions.

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