Because estate planning involves preparation for the disposition of assets after death, people often feel uncomfortable discussing it. It can be especially challenging for people to face planning with their children. But serious challenges can arise from a lack of communication between estate grantors and their children (their most likely beneficiaries and executors) before death intervenes.
Typically, individuals planning their estates prepare key documents, like a will and durable power of attorney, with the help of an experienced estate-planning attorney. Properly crafted, the will represents an individual’s blueprint for distribution of his or her property after death, and the power of attorney authorizes a designated person to make decisions for an individual who has become incapacitated.
Many then conclude that these legal instruments will safely and seamlessly guide their estate without any rancor. However, poor communication with one’s heirs can set the stage for problems despite the presence of these documents. And those post-mortem problems can involve difficulties among and for beneficiaries.
Sometimes, a parent wants to leave a larger percentage of his or her estate to one child — often because the child is less financially established than his or her siblings. He or she should discuss that desire with all children during a time of health; children should not learn of it only after their parent’s death. Without an honest conversation, such unexpected terms can cause resentment and argument between siblings.
Parents also need to inform children — or, at least, the agent designated in a durable power of attorney, the personal representative named in a will or the trustee named in a trust — what assets they have. If they do not, the consequences could prove costly. For instance, if a parent becomes unexpectedly incapacitated and then dies after a long illness, crucial information about life insurance could be missing. The parent never took the opportunity to explain that premium payments for a life insurance policy are being withdrawn from his or her bank account — an account a beneficiary might close hastily after the parent’s death. It is decidedly unfortunate for heirs to learn about the existence of a life insurance policy through an unexpected cancellation notice.
Whatever an individual’s family circumstances may be, an experienced estate-planning attorney like Lisa McDevitt in Fairfax, Virginia, can help make sure that a person’s estate-planning goals are understood and fully executed.