Should you tell your children what's in your estate plan?

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The question of "Should I tell my children about my estate plan?" is a common one. After making all these important decisions, now you wonder what exactly to tell your children about your plan.

Every person's familial situation is different. The first step in deciding whether or not to tell children about your plan is to evaluate how the information would be received. Would telling your children this information cause family drama, or would it go over smoothly?

If you decide your children should be told about your estate plan, here are some suggestions.

First, try to schedule a time when you can speak with all of your children, either in person or on the phone, about your estate plan. Simply tell them you have completed an estate plan and wish to review certain decisions with them.

Second, establish an outline of what you wish to reveal to your children. Some good ideas for what to discuss are as follows:

  • Type of estate plan you chose to execute. For example, did you draft a revocable trust to avoid probate? Did you just update a basic will? Did you create an asset protection trust? Telling your children exactly what type of plan you have and the purpose behind it is important for them to understand your estate planning goals.
  • Agents listed in the documents. Your children should know about any documents in which you have them named as agents. This allows your children to know exactly who is appointed to handle any situation that might arise.
  • Beneficiaries. This is usually the topic that causes issues. If you so choose, you can tell your children how you've decided to distribute your estate. If you think your decision would cause strife and conflict, it might be wiser to not discuss this aspect of your estate plan.
  • Financial accounts. Your children do not necessarily need to know every detail regarding your finances and assets, but it is helpful to make them aware of what types of accounts you have and where they can find certain paperwork regarding those assets. This is important information, especially for your durable power of attorney, personal representative or trustee.
  • Funeral arrangements. Discussing funeral arrangements is not the most enjoyable topic, but it is important your children are aware of your wishes.
  • Passwords and combinations to safes. As with financial accounts, you do not necessarily have to tell your children every password or safe combination you have, but it is important they know where to find this information.

Naturally, these are but a few examples. You have to determine what information, if any, you wish to share.

Should you decide not to tell your children about your estate plan, you can always have the above information written down and included in your estate planning portfolio, so when the time comes, your children have all necessary information.

Rebekah N. Freeman is an associate attorney with Elder Law & Estate Planning Center.

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