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Telling Your Adult Children About Your Estate Plan

By Lane V. Erickson, Idaho Estate Planning Attorney

There have been countless times after I've helped a couple or a single parent complete their estate planning that we have a discussion about whether they should tell their kids about it. This doesn't happen every time. Some parents are very open with their children about what's going on in their personal lives. Often, children already know that their parents are going to an estate planning attorney and they have a pretty good idea of what it is their parents are doing. However, this is not always the case.

Some of my clients are extremely private. This may be because of their personalities, or it could be because of the relationships they have with their children. Sometimes it's because of past experiences my clients have had with their children that haven't been good. Additionally, sometimes it is because of stories my clients have heard from other family members or friends about how their relationships with their children changed after their estate planning was done.

The purpose of this article is to discuss whether you should tell your adult children about your estate plan. Keep in mind that this article is just a summary of your rights. If you have any specific questions we encourage you to contact us for a free 30-minute consultation where we can answer your questions and help you better understand whether or not you should tell your children about your estate plan.

Are You Required to Tell Your Children About Your Estate Plan?

First and foremost, are you required to tell your children about your estate plan? The short answer is no. There is no law or requirement that would force you to disclose your estate plan to anyone. This includes your children. In fact, if you choose you can keep your estate plan hidden from the world until it is actually needed.

Keep in mind that a basic estate plan includes not only a written last will and testament, which disposes of your money and property after you die but it also includes a durable power of attorney, a living will, and a power of attorney for health care. Those last three documents may be used while you are alive. For example, if you have Alzheimer's disease, and you need someone else to help you with your money and finances, your durable power of attorney provides the authority for this to be done. However, in order for this to work it has to be disclosed to all necessary third parties which would include your banks, your professionals such as accountants and attorneys, and any other third-party that may need to be dealt with including creditors and so forth.

Can Your Children Get a Copy of Your Estate Plan Without Your Permission?

So, can your children get a copy of your estate plan without your permission? The short answer again to this is no. However, there are some exceptions. In furthering the example above, if you have Alzheimer's, and you have appointed one of your children as your power of attorney, they will have to know that this has occurred in order to exercise this authority on your behalf. In this instance, there is implied consent on your part to inform your children because you have already named your children with these powers of appointment.

Most people don't have any trouble disclosing their estate plan to their children when they need help. However, the real question is if everything is fine with you, can your children still force your attorney to give them a copy of your estate plan without your permission? The answer is absolutely and 100% no!

So long as you have capacity, you have the ability to keep your estate plan absolutely confidential. Your attorney has both an ethical and a legal responsibility to keep everything done for you confidential. Because of this, even if your children were to call the attorney and ask them questions or seek a copy of the estate plan, the attorney would have to tell them no and not give them any information at all unless you provide your permission or consent.

Should You Tell Your Children About Your Estate Plan?

However, should you tell your children about your estate plan? This is a more interesting question. If you have appointed your children to certain positions within your estate plan, such as your power of attorney, or as your personal representative in your last will and testament, you may want to tell your children about this. The reason is that no person is required to fulfill an appointment. In other words, you can't force anyone to do anything.

If your children choose to not act as your power of attorney, or your personal representative, the law will not force them to do it. Any person could be unable or unwilling to serve in an appointment you make. If this is the case, then they are skipped and you move on to the next person you have appointed.

Because of this, it is wise to find out from your children, or other people that you may want to appoint, whether they are willing to do this for you. It certainly doesn't do you any good to get your estate planning done, naming several people to the appointments that are necessary, only to find out later that all the persons you’ve named refuse to do it for you.

If you still have questions about whether you should talk with your children about your estate plan, we can help. We provide a free 30-minute consultation to answer your questions and to help you with your estate-planning decisions. We have helped numerous individuals with their estate planning, and we are confident we can help you too!

Enlist an Idaho Estate Planning Attorney to Help You

Our team of Idaho lawyers can help you with any of your estate planning or probate needs. Whether you are seeking to create or review an estate plan for yourself or would like to help a loved one, we are available to discuss your options and answer your questions at an initial free 30-minute consultation. Call us toll free at 877-232-6101 or 208-232-6101 for a free consultation. You can also email us directly at lane@racineolson.com or stop by our office at 201 East Center Street, Pocatello, Idaho 83201. We will answer your questions and help you solve your Idaho estate planning problems.

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