Estate Planning and Kids: What to Tell Them and When

Estate Planning and Kids: What to Tell Them and When

by Heleigh Bostwick, August 2013

To tell or not to tell, that is the question many parents have when it comes to discussing estate plans with their children, especially as they get older. 

Unfortunately, there's no easy answer to that question.  

Very few people feel comfortable discussing money and end-of-life issues. Often there is no best time and, of course, every family's situation is unique. While some parents tell their children nothing about their estate plans, some parents tell their children every detail.  

Most parents fall somewhere in between. But no matter where you think you might fall, the question of what, when, and even whether to tell your children anything about how you plan to distribute your assets is highly personal. With that in mind, let's take a look at five of the most important factors to consider.    

1. Location, Location, Location.  

An estate plan does no one any good if no one knows where it is—or even that there is one. If you're not comfortable sharing all of the details in your estate plan with your children, at the very least, let them know that there is one, that it is up-to-date, and of course, where it is located. The same holds true for documents relating to bank accounts, IRAs, brokerage accounts, personal property, rental property and second homes

2. Following Procedure

One of the most important details parents should let their children know about is who they've named as the executor of their estate. It's also a good idea for children to know the name of the family attorney, perhaps even arranging a family meeting with him or her to go over the estate plan ahead of time. Again, if you're not comfortable divulging the details, at least your children will know there is a plan in place and who to call when the time comes.  

4. Who's in Charge?

Nobody wants to think about a time in their life when they may be incapacitated, but with people living longer than ever, it makes sense to have a plan for long-term care in place, as well as a living will and health care power of attorney. It's always a good idea to discuss these types of situations and plans with your children in advance, particularly if you have specific preferences such as whether you want to donate your organs; under what conditions, or for how long, you would want be kept on life support; or whether you'd prefer to finish out your final years in your own home versus a nursing home.   

5. To Disclose or Not

While most parents do leave the assets they've accumulated over a lifetime to their children, keep in mind that they are your assets to do with as you please—even if that includes leaving it all to your charity of choice. You are also under no obligation to tell your children anything about your plans.  

That said, however, most families get along reasonably well, and if yours does, there's no reason not to discuss your estate plan with your children. If you're uncomfortable discussing monetary assets, then start with a “who gets what” approach to your personal property, such as jewelry and furniture. The death of a parent is a stressful, emotion-filled time. Surprises, especially about money and property, can trigger unpleasant feelings all around. You know your family better than anyone else. Once you've given some thought to the matter, you can act accordingly.  

In most cases, it's better to prepare your children ahead of time so that they are better equipped to manage their inherited assets successfully.

Sometimes having a second opinion also helps. You can talk to an attorney about your family legal issues and other estate planning questions through the Personal Legal Plan. Get a 14-day trial with the purchase of a last will or living trust.