Top 20 Tips from Twenty Years
I’m not finished with the series . . . !
I took a detour last week to answer some questions about Social Security. We resume our “Tips” series with more about your estate planning:
#18 – Talk to Your Family. While understandably awkward and uncomfortable, candid communication about “who” you want to get “what,” and “when,” after you die can help reduce misunderstandings, hard feelings, family fracturing, and litigation. Communication is especially important if you have a second marriage with a blended family, or children who are: fostered, adopted, financially dependent, disabled, divorced (or in shaky marriages), or who have other serious personal problems, like addiction. A properly constructed estate plan can address all of these potential concerns, but it needs to be discussed with everyone it touches.
Say WHAT? I am not suggesting that you give everyone a copy of your personal documents or that you should tell them how much you are worth. What I am saying is that you should tell each person your plans for him/her, and do it as soon as possible. It would also be prudent and considerate to consult with anyone you plan to name in your legal documents. They should be given a copy of the paperwork so they can be clear about their responsibilities.
Shoe on the Other Foot. What if, instead, you are an heir, or are asked to assist with someone else’s estate plan? Is it okay to ask questions? Definitely! Start like this: “Is there anything you would like me to know in advance so I can be better prepared?” Please also ask them what documents they’ve executed, who prepared them, and where they are located. Who is the executor and/or trustee? Who is the durable power of attorney; does he have a copy of that document? Who is the designated health care surrogate? There are too many horror stories of caregivers or family members who have taken advantage of elders by altering their estate plans and leaving the original heirs out in the cold! The knowledge you gain from asking a few questions beforehand, could help you anticipate and identify unexpected changes to an estate plan later.
While I don't need to know every detail of my parents’ and father-in-law’s estate plans, I do have a general knowledge of their wishes. To the benefactors, I ask you to open up a little. And, to the heirs out there, I say, speak up and ask what you need to know. Next week, my favorite tip: The Awesome Power of Trusts.