A basic estate plan includes a will (or a trust), power of attorney for financial affairs, and power of attorney for health care. One of the most crucial elements of any estate plan is the person, or people, you choose to act on your behalf. How will your loved ones know who you have chosen to act on your behalf? Will some of your loved ones feel left out?
Holding a family meeting shortly after completing an estate plan can be extremely beneficial. Most family meetings are held at the parents’ home with invitees consisting solely of the parents’ children. I generally advise clients to not invite in-laws or significant others as family meetings are a time for parents to meet with their children and explain their desires. Children often provide input or ask questions at these meetings.
Family meetings ensure the children are all aware of their parents’ desires in the event the parents become incapacitated or upon death. Knowing which child, or children, will act as attorney-in-fact when parents are in need will allow the other children to provide support for both their parents and their siblings. Additionally, family meetings allow parents to explain their decision-making process to their children to help the children understand the parents’ choices. Parents often ask their attorneys which child they should choose for certain tasks (i.e., who should act as attorney-in-fact or personal representative). Another common question parents ask their attorneys is if all children can share in the decision-making process, when necessary.
Most attorneys advise their clients against appointing more than one person to act jointly in a fiduciary capacity as the potential for conflict increases when multiple individuals are forced to make decisions together. Additionally, attorneys are generally less than qualified to advise clients on which child the parents should appoint for certain tasks. Parents must make these decisions based on their knowledge of their children and their respective relationships with each. Family meetings can provide parents with the opportunity to explain their rationale to their children. Understanding their parents’ rationale can help prevent conflict in the future.
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