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Family Talks: How to Discuss Estate Planning Documents with Family

So you've finished your estate planning documents and it's time to put the envelope in the safe with your other valuable papers. What a relief to be finished!

A few weeks later, lying in bed, you ask yourself: Does my Executor even know where I'm keeping my Will? It's okay, you realize, you'll just call your Executor and make sure he or she knows where it is.

The next night, lying in bed again, a flurry of questions is keeping you awake: How will my Executor know what assets I have? Will my Executor be able to interpret the instructions the lawyer put in writing? How will my Executor handle distribution of my personal property? What if I were incapacitated?

We all have these moments, both before and after finalizing our estate planning. Usually, when it's before executing our documents, we can simply ask the lawyer to provide us with answers. Even afterward, we can follow up with a phone call or subsequent appointment. But the question remains:

How will our Executors (often our child or children) actually know any of this stuff when the time comes?

For this reason, we recommend families take time to conduct multi-generational estate planning discussions. It doesn't have to be as fancy as the name suggests. Rather, it's often parents and children around the kitchen table (or on Zoom video) discussing estate planning documents. Done right, it has the effect of breathing life into the pages of your estate planning documents. Almost always, it increases the certainty of your wishes being carried out.

So what does your Executor and/or Beneficiaries need to know?

  1. Where you will be storing your Will and Powers of Attorney.

  2. Who is named as Executor.

  3. What are the main distribution instructions.

  4. How you want distribution of your tangible personal property handled.

  5. Why you structured your documents the way that you did.

  6. When does your Executor need to act? When does your Power of Attorney take effect?

These questions are just a start, but they can prompt a valuable discussion that promotes clarity and cooperation between your Executor and Beneficiaries. It avoids surprise later, in the event distribution provisions are not equal. This increased clarity and lack of surprise later on all serves to increase the likelihood of an efficient and litigation-free estate administration. Most importantly, it improves the certainty that your estate plan will succeed just the way you envision.


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