Inheritance etiquette: How to talk about estate planning with your family

Estate planning is an important step to protect your legacy and provide for your loved ones, no matter what your situation in life.

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by Siege Media, contributor to LegalZoom
updated May 11, 2023 ·  4min read

No matter where you are in life, having an estate plan on paper is an important and selfless act for those you love.

While the conversation may feel difficult to begin, it's one of the most beneficial discussions you can have. Communicating your desires to your friends and family ensures your wishes are heard, empowering you to determine what your legacy will be. Ultimately, the estate planning conversation will give you peace of mind and put your loved ones at ease knowing what their responsibilities are and how they can honor your legacy.

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Here, we'll discuss the benefits of having the estate planning conversation and tips for getting started.

Benefits of estate planning

A careful, thought-out estate plan helps you answer the important question: “What do you want your legacy to be?" While the question—and the process—can seem daunting at first, it's ultimately an exercise in understanding how you want to live, and how that life will be carried on.

There are many benefits to estate planning including those that are immediately apparent and others that have long-lasting impacts. At the end of the estate planning process, you can be more comfortable knowing your wishes will be met and your family will be provided for.

Gain peace of mind

An estimated 68% of Americans don't have a will. If they were to pass away without one, their estate would be managed according to the laws of the state in which they resided.

One of the first benefits of estate planning is the peace of mind that your assets will be transferred according to your desires after you're gone. Putting together a comprehensive estate plan allows you to determine how—and by who—your affairs will be managed.

Prevent family conflict

Clearly communicating the goals for your estate removes the emotional burden of having to make these difficult decisions from your family members and loved ones. It also helps remove the potential for any conflict or further conversation about how your affairs will be handled, which should result in a smoother and less expensive process.

Preserve your legacy

It's important to proactively plan to preserve generational wealth, land, heirlooms, and most of all, legacies. Most people who spend their lives building and preserving their estate would likely find relief knowing that it can remain intact after they're gone.

Perhaps you belong to a congregation or believe in a charity that you would like to offer continued support after you pass away.

If each generation continues to steward the estate responsibly, the family legacy could have significant and lasting impacts for future descendants. If there's any uncertainty about the intentions, desires, or capacities of one's beneficiaries, the best course of action is to ensure every scenario is thought of and covered in your estate plan according to your wishes.

Choose what's right for you

Just like the individuals behind the estate, every estate is unique and therefore requires a unique plan. It's important to make comprehensive decisions early on that are right for you and your family. Consider any and all circumstances including who will make medical decisions.

Regardless of age, marital status, or wealth, having a will is important for everyone.

Inheritance Etiquette Tips

The subject of inheritance is an understandably difficult and painful topic to talk about. If you have a large family it can be easier to get the estate planning discussion started as a group instead of in one-on-one conversations. Below are some tips to make these inheritance talks as smooth and productive as possible.

1. Have the discussion early and often

Don't put this conversation off. It's beneficial to begin discussing inheritance at an early age to get your family comfortable with asking honest questions, bringing up meaningful discourse, and setting an example for their individual estate planning habits.

It's also recommended to have periodic inheritance discussions to re-evaluate the plan, situation, and any material changes in the estate.

2. Be upfront, open, and inclusive

Be transparent with your executors, guardians, trustees, agents, and trusted family members. Openly talking about your affairs, intentions, and wishes helps ensure they'll be met. If you don't have specific wishes for how your estate will be managed after your passing, simply communicate these sentiments.

3. Compile notes and instructions

When a loved one passes away, it's important that a trusted person has the necessary information to retrieve the will, access assets, and more. For example, if there are any safes or safekeeping places for jewelry, cash, and other valuables, informing a trusted person early on can help ease the process during an already difficult time.

The details and whereabouts of the following information should be communicated for exceptionally good inheritance etiquette:

  • Who has power of attorney
  • Social Security number
  • Birth certificate
  • Account information for all financial institutions
  • Debtors/lines of credit
  • Insurance providers/policies
  • Marriage certificates/divorce paperwork
  • Other pertinent information

4. Approach the conversation with empathy

It's important to recognize how difficult this conversation can be for you and your family, and approach the sensitive topic with understanding and empathy.

To do so, plan ahead and communicate when the estate planning conversation will take place. This can give everyone time to compose their thoughts, questions, and most importantly, their feelings. During the conversation, communicate openly and encourage everyone to share their thoughts on the subject. Listen actively, and be cognizant of approaching any potential disagreements with understanding.

Ultimately, conversations about estate planning can be difficult to start—but they're one of the most important discussions you'll have. Once you've initiated the conversation, know you're in good hands with LegalZoom—from helping you begin estate planning to walking you through important estate planning documents, our network of attorneys is here to help.

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About the Author

Siege Media, contributor to LegalZoom

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This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of the author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.