The unveiling of one’s last will and testament almost never happens like it does in the movies, where an attorney reads the document out loud and those in attendance are shocked. Although a formal reading is rare, those who are named (or not named) in someone’s last will and testament might still be surprised when the probate or trust administration commences. Surprises in a will typically lead to conflict between family members and more challenges for whoever is handling the estate.
The best thing you can do to prevent future conflict is to be transparent about your estate planning each step of the way. If possible, include trusted family members in the planning process. In spite of the natural bias they may have, they will hopefully put their own interests aside for the sake of what is best for you and in order to avoid potential problems.
Your loved ones may also be able to offer you insights that you wouldn’t have otherwise. They may be able to advise you on how best to meet ongoing support needs of beneficiaries. They may also know more about tensions within the family that you are not aware of but that you will want to address within your estate plan.
After completing your estate plan, it’s best to discuss the documents with trusted family members and loved ones – including both those named and those not named in the documents. It’s important they know that you created the plan intentionally and that you understand the documents you have signed. This also gives loved ones the chance to ask questions and for you to explain your decisions.
Once documents are completed, you should give copies to your executors or at least show them where these documents are kept.
A certain level or transparency is required in order to include loved ones in the process of estate planning. It’s also important to be willing to listen and recognize that family members and loved ones have a unique perspective that is different from your own. In the end, though, you get to decide how your assets will be passed down after you pass away.
If you are unable to or don’t feel comfortable sharing your estate plan with family members, you can instead leave a letter explaining the choices you made and your motives behind these decisions. This letter should never be written as a weapon to use against family members, but it should serve to help loved ones understand your intent and to prevent them from causing problems for the estate fiduciary.
Sometimes, the biggest challenge to having conversations about estate planning is logistical since it may be difficult to find the right time to have a conversation with everyone involved. The holiday season can be a good time to have these conversations as you gather together with your family. If possible, set aside a short amount of time to discuss estate planning with your loved ones before returning to holiday celebrations together.
For help creating your estate plan, contact us at Wilson and Wilson Estate Planning and Elder Law, LLC at 708 482 7090 for our main office in LaGrange, Illinois or at 847 656 8958 for our Northbrook, Illinois office.