Written on December 18, 2012 – 7:00 am | by Corina Weigl
In yesterday’s blog, my colleague Audrey Miller spoke about how the holidays are a time when families get together, sometimes for extended periods. She went on to make the point that this “togetherness” can be both wonderful and challenging and it can also be a great opportunity to see how parents are managing. I would add that, for parents, being “home for the holidays” with their brood in tow, also presents a great opportunity to speak with their family about their estate plan.
There are many myths and realities that go along with parental apprehension at bringing their children into a discussion about their estate plan. Parents are reluctant to discuss their net worth with their children and, more likely, are concerned at how their children might react when the topic of their mortality is raised. Children are worried about offending their parents by bringing up a topic that might make them appear greedy. While these perceptions cannot be ignored, there is more to potentially lose by not talking, then there is by opening up a dialogue with the next generation.
Litigation of any sort these days is an expensive proposition. In the estate context, it is often the case that litigation arises due to a misunderstanding of parental intentions. Where this is the case, consultation with family members about the rationale for the estate plan, and a chance to engage in a dialogue about the plan, will go a long way to having the plan accepted and thereby reduce the risk of a challenge after the fact.
The holidays present a great opportunity to begin the dialogue about your estate plan. It may be that time can be set aside to start the dialogue, even if it is simply to convey where your essential information, like your Wills and powers of attorney, are located. If you have already begun this dialogue, maybe you can advance the discussion by speaking about assets that may present challenges – like the family cottage or personal effects. If you’ve engaged in some tax planning, letting your family members have an understanding of the tax planning will assist in managing their expectations as to how your estate will be administered. If your estate plan involves some unusual dispositive aspects, for example setting up trusts as opposed to an outright distribution or an unequal distribution, communicating your reasoning is often essential in avoiding conflict after you are gone.
So while you are basting that turkey and stirring that eggnog, don’t forget to add to your holiday menu a measure of time for a discussion about your estate plan.