Many of my clients have told me that they do not wish to tell their children or other loved ones ANYTHING about their estate plan. This is because they believe that their heirs will begin to “count” their money before they have died; or at least count on receiving something at the person’s death. I have to honor this wish as their estate planning attorney. But it doesn’t mean that I think that this will solve problems between siblings if they exist; keep greedy heirs—or people who believe they should be heirs from making claims following a death, and consequently, making the persons appointed as trustees and personal representatives miserable!
To the contrary. A well-conceived plan and an open discussion with all of those persons who need to be or should be involved will avoid confusion and stress when someone passes away or becomes incapacitated.
Discussion is difficult, but presenting a list is not. So, my first recommendation is to make a list of important documents, and inform your appointed personal representatives or trustees where the items on the list may be located. These items include but are not limited to.
- Funeral/burial instructions and contracts for same. These are first on the list because they are needed immediately following your death before your will is read or filed. Many people want to put these instructions in their wills. Don’t. This is because your will is dealt with following your burial.
- Your will
- Trusts if any
- Your power of attorney documents
- Titles to vehicles
- Deeds for homes
- Copies of or information about insurance policies
- A personal balance sheet. I have one client who up-dates this regularly for anyone involved with his estate. It is very helpful.
A second recommendation is to give your personal representatives, trustees and heirs the names your professional advisors. Having your family members meet these advisors before-hand can be very helpful. Making a list of these advisors with contact information can also be very valuable. I call these people “the village” when I am planning for a client, because their in-put regarding a client’s affairs as they exist either before death, upon incapacity, or just after death, is very important.
Here is a list of people you might wish to include and introduce to your family:
- Financial Advisors.
- Your Estate Planning Lawyer.
- Funeral/Burial companies that you have employed.
- Real estate agents you favor if your home might be sold.
A third recommendation: I have had clients whose parents appointed them jointly as personal representatives and trustees. These people never got along with each other while a decedent was alive, and the naive thought on the part of the client was that they would cooperate with each other following that person’s death. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Dealing with such estate became an impossibility in one case I had recently. And I could only recommend that each appointed person hire his/her own legal counsel, and that they both agree upon a third independent party to manage their late parent’s estate. This obviously involved money, and it was as if the parents were punishing the kids for not getting along even after the parents passed.
If you are stuck and feel uncomfortable doing this you can give our office a call at 617-431-2669 and we can schedule a family meeting to discuss the issues while you are still capable of doing so!