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How to Talk to Adult Children About Your Estate Planning

May 23

Advice for Discussing Estate Plans with Adult Children

Written by Thomas Upchurch

For many Americans, money and financial concerns are taboo subjects for discussion. Unfortunately, that reticence creates an obstacle for many people in the estate planning process. To reduce family stress and conflict; ensure that your closest relatives are prepared to assume any responsibilities you allocate to them; and avoid unnecessary cost and confusion after your passing, it’s important to talk with your adult children about your estate plan. While that may not be entirely comfortable for either of you, these tips will help to make the discussion a bit easier for all involved, and ensure that you cover the key points effectively.

  • Plan the discussion in advance and make sure everyone knows what to expect. A discussion about how your property will be allocated after your death or who you’re appointing to make medical decisions if you’re in a coma isn’t something to spring on your son while you’re working together in the garden or squeeze into the 15 minutes before your daughter leaves for the airport.
  • Prepare a checklist to make sure you cover all key points. The last thing you want is to gather everyone together for a family meeting about your estate and then realize the next morning that you failed to address an important point. Prepare a list in advance, and consider reviewing the list with your estate planning attorney before you talk with your adult children. Keep the list handy during the discussion and review it before you end the discussion to make sure you haven’t overlooked anything.
  • Decide in advance how much information you want to share. You want to give your children a sense of what to expect, particularly where property such as a family business or a home that’s been in the family for generations is involved. But, that doesn’t mean that you have to share every detail—particularly exact amounts of money. How much detail is appropriate to share is a personal decision, depending on your family norms and relationships, the property involved, and other factors. But, conversations can take on a life of their own if you’re not prepared. Make sure you know what you do and don’t want to share before you start.
  • Ask, don’t tell, where responsibilities are at issue. Your money and property are yours to do with as you please, and you’re free to tell your kids how it will be divided. But, other estate planning issues require buy-in. When you discuss issues such as appointment of a healthcare proxy, an administrator for your estate, a trustee to manage assets on behalf of other beneficiaries, or a guardian for any remaining minor children, explain whom you want to appoint and why and then give that person a chance to think about the responsibilities and potential impact on family relationships before accepting or declining.
  • Don’t shy away from sensitive subjects. One reason people avoid discussing their estate plans with adult children is that certain decisions may trigger an emotional response. While it’s understandable that you’d rather avoid that conflict, remember that you won’t really prevent the stressful encounter by leaving hot-button topics out of your conversation—you’ll just leave the conflict for your family to manage in the already-emotional days following your passing. You may even find that raising sensitive subjects has a positive impact. For example, if you’re considering leaving one child’s inheritance in trust because you’re concerned about creditors sweeping in and wiping it out, mentioning that now may motivate him to clean up his finances.

Don’t delay this important conversation. Give yourself and your adult children the peace of mind that comes with knowing that everyone understands and is prepared for what lies ahead. If you’re unsure about the best way to approach this discussion or how much to disclose to your adult children, an experienced estate planning attorney can be your best resource.