By Lane V. Erickson, Idaho Estate Planning Attorney
Many times after I’ve helped a couple complete their estate planning, they will ask me whether it is a good idea for them to have a family meeting so that they can describe their estate plan to their children. Whether they should share their estate plan with their children is a very personal decision that each individual or couple must make on their own. I don’t encourage it nor do I discourage it. However, whenever a client asks me this question, I do try to give them some advice about how to do such a meeting. Here are the three most important things I try to explain to these individuals.
1. Your Estate Plan is Your Private Property
The first thing I explain is that their estate planning, and all documents included in their estate plan, are their private property. I provide this explanation because I want to impress upon my clients that they are under no legal obligation to share their estate plan with any other individual including their children or family. As their attorney, I am obligated to keep their estate plan confidential, unless they give me specific permission and authority to share their estate plan with some other individual.
The reason this explanation is important is because I’ve often found that children of elderly parents will often pressure their parents into sharing copies of their estate plan with them. Often this is done so that children can know in advance what portions of the estate they will receive when their parents pass. I’ve seen instances where children are unhappy with the decisions their parents have made and begin putting pressure on their parents to make changes to their estate plan. In extreme cases I’ve seen children who have coerced or intimidated their parents into making changes the parents did not want to make.
All of these scenarios can be avoided if the parents choose to keep their estate plan confidential. Parents often don’t know they can keep their estate plan confidential because they don’t understand that it is their private property. If after making this explanation if my clients still decide they want to share their estate plan with their children or family, then I make additional suggestions.
2. Having Your Attorney Conduct the Meeting Can Often Help
The second thing I do is make the suggestion that if they are going to have a family meeting, they have me attend. I have found that when the estate planning attorney is present at the family meeting where the parents present their estate plan to their children or family, people are often far more polite. More importantly I found that I am able to provide additional detail and explanations to the family that the parents often cannot do on their own.
The thing that leads most often to family fights are often simple misunderstandings. If the parents are unable to provide explanations about the legal effect of their estate plan or why their estate plan reads a certain way, I can provide that explanation to the family in objective way that often avoids misunderstandings and disagreements.
3. Plan Ahead So the Meeting Will Be a Success
The third thing I do is suggest some planning items so the meeting is successful. To have a successful meeting there really are some simple things to keep in mind. For example, planning to have the meeting in an appropriate location is very important. The meeting to discuss the parent’s estate plan should not be held in a public location such as a restaurant. The location should be private, and should encourage a discussion with the family.
Additionally, the parents should inform the children that the meeting will last a specific amount of time. The reason for this is that it will encourage the children to listen rather than to make derogatory or subjective comments about the parents estate plan. Parents can indicate that comments or discussion can be made after the plan is presented.
Furthermore, the parents could, and should indicate that the meeting will be limited to just adults. This will eliminate distractions that can cause often arise when there are infants or small children in the room. Likewise, if the parents anticipate that there will be disappointment or unhappiness about their estate plan, they can encourage those who have unhappy feelings about the estate plan to think about it and make those comments to the parents at a later time.
These are just a few of the things that I do to assist my clients if they choose to share their estate plan with their children or families. There are other ways that a family meeting to discuss an estate plan can be successful.
Enlist the Help of an Estate Planning Attorney
If you have questions about whether or how to share your estate plan with your children or family, we can help. Call us toll free at 877-232-6101 or 208-232-6101 for a consultation with Lane Erickson and the Racine Olson team of Estate Planning attorneys in Idaho. You can also email Lane Erickson directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will answer your questions and will help you solve your Idaho Estate Planning problems.