Discussing your estate plans with your adult children may be the single best defense against leaving a legacy of family strife and division.
A recent New York Timesarticle, titled "What's Almost as Certain as Death? Not Talking About the Inheritance," details a new report revealing that the majority of Americans do not discuss their estate plans with their children. The main reasons given for this failure to communicate:
- The parents do not want to think about dying.
- They do not want to discuss finances with the children.
- They fear if the children know how much they will inherit, the children will lose motivation to make their own money.
- They have concerns about their children's financial abilities.
The problem, as the story points out, is that when surprising children with their inheritances often leads to problems. What the parents thought was a good idea might not seem so great to one or more of the children. For example, if the family home is left to one child, other children might feel slighted. This is true even if they receive an equal share of the total estate from other assets. If the children do not know why things were divided as they are in the estate plan, then they are more likely to fight. They might even take their fight to court.
The best way to avoid future feuds is to tell the children beforehand. Let them know how the estate will be divided and, even more importantly, why. While that can lead to uncomfortable discussions now, it helps avoid larger problems later.
If you have an estate plan and have not discussed it with your adult children, then it is essential that you take the time to sit down with them to talk about it. You might even want to have your estate planning attorney present to help explain the details and legal issues involved.