Real Family Conversations About Estate Plans, Part 1
As estate planning attorneys serving the Phoenix AZ Valley, we’ve had many conversations with families about finances. We’re a law firm that has been around since the early 1980s, so we’ve also had the opportunity to help succeeding generations plan their estates. At Phelps LaClair, we understand that conversations about end-of-life realities can feel awkward for families. But preparing for such talks and understanding the relational dynamics of these discussions can make the process much easier.
First, your family members may not be entirely comfortable with talking about the fact that you will eventually die, and they will become your beneficiaries. Staying calm and confident as you open up a discussion on your estate plan will help your loved ones feel more at ease. And while you can’t force your family members to discuss these matters openly, your transparency can encourage them to be more real and transparent.
Before meeting with them, give thoughtful consideration to how you feel about passing on a legacy. Then, in your own words, let them know how important it is to you that they are prepared to receive what is being passed on to their generation. Giving them a sense of your values about the transition may help them recognize the benefit of having discussions regarding your estate plan.
Second, relationships are more important than money, and your family situation is unique. That means it’s important to decide how to approach your beneficiaries. Are your adult children mature, and do they have healthy sibling relationships, as well as a strong connection with you? If so, perhaps meeting with all of them at the same time is a good approach. Or, depending on the strength of your relationships and the health and maturity of relationships between siblings, you may consider the alternative of sitting down with each adult child individually. Choosing the best relational pathway will likely help make the process easier for everyone involved.
Part of those family discussions should include letting your family know whom you’ve chosen as your Successor Trustee. That person (or persons, if you’ve named more than one) will be the primary individual in charge of carrying out the wishes of your Living Trust or Will, the one who will administer all the financial and administrative tasks associated with your trust or will. If they have siblings, affirming your choice of the successor trustee to each of the other children can be helpful in fostering cooperation between family members when you’re no longer around.
Third, talking to your adult children—and even adult grandchildren, if you’ve decided to include them in your discussions—about your estate plan can give them an understanding of what it means to steward an inheritance. As you sit down with them, share your reasons for passing on an inheritance to them. Communicate the vision you have for their generation and succeeding generations, and for the provision you’re making to help them succeed. Continuing the legacy to the next generation is possible through good investments and stewarding of your financial assets. Take the opportunity to share about your own journey of building and passing on an inheritance. Doing so can help them catch a vision for their passing on their own legacy one day.
Finally, be clear about your intentions, and then give them time to ask questions. By the questions they ask and the concerns they express, you may be able to understand and address their expectations as individuals within the greater family. And by settling those concerns in a conversation with them, you may be able to diffuse potential problems and disagreements among beneficiaries.
Every Situation is Unique
As for how thorough you want to be in divulging financial information, you are the only one who can make that decision. Getting advice from experienced legal counsel or from those trained in Trust Administration is probably a good idea. Those who work with estate planning on a regular basis have walked through many different scenarios with family relationships. They can help you understand what is essential information to share beforehand, and they can give you all the specifics about what your beneficiaries need to know in advance.
If you plan ahead, opening up the dialogue on your estate plan can be a positive experience. The conversations you have with your loved ones can be an opportunity to pass on your values and to cast vision for the future. Preparing your beneficiaries by taking the time to talk to them in advance is tremendously helpful for them, and it can give you peace of mind in knowing your family is ready for the future. We’ve assisted many families in walking through the process of transitioning an estate from one generation to the next. If you’re looking for qualified, experienced estate planning attorneys in Phoenix, Chandler, or Mesa AZ, contact our Phelps LaClair offices. We’re a second generation firm that cares about families and their legacies.