Parenting often involves keeping secrets, especially when the kids are little — remember all the secrecy surrounding Christmas or birthdays?
Back when my daughter was 4 years old my wife and I kept a big secret from her. For her 5th birthday we surprised her with a trip to Disney World in conjunction with an estate planning conference! (She was excited about the first, while I was pretty excited about the second.) It was hard to keep the secret at times, but it sure was a fun surprise when we pulled it off.
Estate Plan Secrets
Secrets can be fun. But where estate planning is concerned, they most definitely are not. Sometimes it’s hard to know what our kids may or may not know about our plan. Walt Disney’s daughter was once asked by kids at her school what it was like to be his daughter: She came home that night indignant, telling her dad, “You never told me you were Walt Disney!” Sometimes things that seem obvious to us might not be so obvious to our kids.
5 Things Your Kids Need to Know About Your Estate Plan
What do your kids know or not know about your estate plan? Here’s a quick checklist to consider:
- Burial — Do your kids know whether you want to be cremated or buried? If you want to be buried, where do you want to be buried? Have you already purchased a cemetery lot?
- Who to Call — Do your kids know who your attorney is or how to get a hold of him/her? Can he help tie up loose ends or was he only used to fill out forms and make them official during planning?
- Assets — Do your kids and/or family know what your assets are? If you suddenly have a stroke or heart attack can they easily find that information?
- End of Life — Are they clear about your wishes for ending treatment and “pulling the plug?” Do they know how you feel about organ donation?
- Your Plan — Do they know where to find your will, trust and/or powers of attorney? (And if they’re in your safe deposit box or home lock box, can they get in? Do they have the key or the combination?) Will your kids be surprised by your plan? (How you divided assets or whether you gave to charity…) Unfulfilled expectations can mean conflict between your kids or lifelong heartache for a child who misreads a plan as being a symbol of how the parent felt about them.
5 Tips to Make Sure There are No Secrets About Your Estate Plan
- Talk. Have conversations with your kids about aging, death and what will happen. There are good conversation starter resources at EngageWithGrace and The Conversation Project. You can also read our post on the subject HERE. The holidays, when families gather together, are a good time to get these conversations started.
- Find an experienced attorney. Work with an attorney who keeps your plan up to date through a membership program or a maintenance plan. That way, even if you don’t want to share all of your financial information with your kids now, the attorney will have it to provide them with later. Read about our program HERE.
- Don’t assume. Recognizing if your kids will know what to do or how to do it once you are gone can be really hard. Tell them what you expect now. Things like which advisor to rely on or “take care of your little sister” can go a long way.
- No surprises. Give your kids the overview of your plan, so they know what to expect. News such as, “I’m going to leave your brother the farm,” is better with an explanation from you now. Your attorney can help with this, providing as much or as little detail as you want.
- Don’t just fill out a form. Include purpose statements in your will or trust. Tell why you did what you did, or explain that “it is my intent” that the plan work a certain way.
Estate planning works much more smoothly when there are no secrets or surprises. Save your family a lot of money and heartache by doing a little work now. Read about how to avoid an estate battle after you’re gone HERE.