In this series of articles we're looking at systems and preparation for the time we die. We're walking through relieving yourself of concerns regarding your hard-earned assets, loved family heirlooms, and relations between your relations. The question that summaries both the benefactor and beneficiaries' mindset is, "Should we talk about the Inheritance Plan?" In my experience, and that of 35+-year veteran estate lawyer Gerald Condon, author of Beyond the Grave, YES is the answer. Mr. Condon concludes, "… common sense dictates it is the right thing to do. Nevertheless, clients seem loath to discuss inheritance issues with their children, leaving their children in a mystery…"
Here are some top reasons to have the conversation:
- You have the opportunity to surprise and astound your kids
- Your #1 goal as a parent is typically to have the kids get along forever. Their understanding the reasons behind your choices will go a long way toward preserving good relations between the siblings.
- Your wishes are more likely to be carried out when they're known by everyone. This is most important regarding your decision regarding health care should you be unable to make such decisions yourself. And, the money choices are important too.
- Beneficiaries have a chance to express appreciation for what you're leaving them.
- Someone around the table might have experience or knowledge to enhance your efforts.
- Issues can be aired and perhaps smoothed because of your input.
- Your siblings and parents will understand why your kids will be cared for by who you've directed in your will.
- Grandma's precious music box will go to your oldest daughter, where you want it to go.
To plug Mr. Condon's book – it's a must read! All 440 pages had me engaged, learning, and concerned. This book has endless stories of how people set up their inheritance plans and the impact of those decisions including adults receiving money that enhances the rest of their lives, kids not speaking to each other the rest of their lives, and Mom & Dad's wishes being honored and disregarded. These tales are better than any television drama – reality is spicy itself. The stories are laced with legal advice gleaned from the experiences in the stories. Clear ideas on every aspect of your plan from viable Trustees to keeping your money in your blood family are offered.
Here's the system for having the conversation (this assumes you have followed the advice in Article 1 Collecting Your Records and 2 The Conversation (Part 1 – Legal People of this series – it will work only if you have):
- Schedule a family inheritance meeting including immediate relatives, others impacted by your bequest and your lawyer. Ask the lawyer or other capable facilitator to facilitate.
- Review and summaries each of the documents in your Inheritance Plan – Powers of Attorney, Will, and Trust.
- Talk about things you own if they're to go to someone in particular. For example, Grandma's diamond wedding ring might be handed down through the males in the family. Ask if anyone wants something in particular. Perhaps your daughter knows your grand daughter would love to have your old clarinet.
- Ask for questions and input from those present. Reply candidly and warmly if possible.
- Discuss with your lawyer who to give a copy of your documents and do that so everyone knows who has what.
Yes, this article has generally been from the perspective of the one creating the Inheritance Plan. If you are the probable beneficiary of your parents' Inheritance Plan or their decision maker in health care situation you need to know what their desires and wishes are. You also need to know if they have suitable documentation of their desires and wishes. If your parents haven't brought the subject up, you must open the door of the conversation. There are many good ways to do to. Here's one: "Pat's Dad died a few months ago and she's his executor. She's working on his stuff every day and though it is a lot to do, she says he made it easy by having a good plan. Pat and Dad talked about the plan while he was alive and healthy so she feels set up for success. Mom, Dad, do you have a plan for your healthcare and property? Could we talk about it?" For more ideas on this front I recommend a second book, The Wise Inheritor.
Underlying your good legacy is talking to your family & friends. Please do start that conversation soon.