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How Much to Tell Your Heirs About Your Estate Planning Decisions

Posted by Gayla K. Austin | Dec 07, 2022 | 0 Comments

Telling your beneficiaries what you are leaving and why is of course a personal decision.  Let's break it into two components: 

1.  How much of what you own do you tell them?  and 

2.  Should we tell them why we are leaving what to whom? 

Some parents say our heirs have no idea what we own and we are not going to tell them.  Often that means the parents have more than their heirs think they have.  Sometimes its because the makers of the estate plan say they don't want their beneficiaries to have an expectation that they are going to get this big chunk because it might make them unmotivated today knowing they will get a million dollars tomorrow.  Or sometimes the parents say we are going to spend it so we aren't going to tell our beneficiaries about it.  

Some say we are going to tell our beneficiaries everything.  Usually people who say that want it to be a learning process for their children or other beneficiaries and maybe share with the children how they were frugal and invested to build an estate and are teaching their children how to do that.  

Telling them why: 

Communication would be about why you created the estate program or why you left your estate through a will requiring the court process or or through a trust to try to eliminate court involvement.  Whether you left things to your children equally or you left things to grandchildren, and whether you left certain things to certain people or an unequal distribution for various reasons.  

Sometimes leaving a bequest to grandchildren is with the purpose of helping that grandchild get ahead with life to get an education because they feel like leaving it to grandchildren will make that. more likely than just leaving it all to the children.  Sometimes people leave their home to a certain person or a certain amount of money to a specific person or a specific vehicle--communicating why is important because if your beneficiaries don't know why it can cause certain hard feelings.  

You will also make decisions about who will be handling things when you become incapacitated or when you pass away, who will make medical decisions, who will be involved with financial decisions if you cannot, and who will is going to be handling things when you pass away.   Decisions are made about about who will be the executor of your will or trustee of your trust, which of course are very personal, and so it is important you communicate the why.  Sometimes the reasons people choose someone are because they are the oldest, or because they are local, because they are responsible, or because they are organized or these two people because they have relationships a certain way. 

If you don't communicate why you are doing that it could cause hard feelings so why is important.  End of life decision making is also important--not because the survivors can do anything about it since you have made your medical designations and power(s) of attorney--but because it makes things easier for the people remaining. 

How to do it?  By having a conversation or open discussion.  Others don't want to have that kind of conversation and the legal documents that you are creating is not really the place for that so a separate communication in your own hand writing or typed by you--and note it doesn't necessarily have legal ffect--it simply sets out why you made the decisions you did. 

Communicating what you are bequesting and why so your loved ones and friends they are not left wondering is an effective and lasting communication, either in a personal oral communication or a written letter format, hand written, outside of formal written documents.   It is something your survivors will appreciate. 

If you would like to discuss your current estate plan or making your estate program, please contact me at 307.200.1914.  

About the Author

Gayla K. Austin

I enjoy helping clients put it all together with legal advice regarding real property, estate planning and business entities.

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