In an ideal world elderly parents and their adult children always get along, and when those parents pass away their children quietly and respectfully follow their wishes regarding the distribution of their estate. Unfortunately, we don’t always live in an ideal world, and inheritance and estate planning can often cause tension between parents and children before the parents have even reached retirement age!

What are your options when you know your kids won’t like what you’ve put in your will or trust? Many people choose to simply keep their wishes secreted away in a safety deposit box until they’ve passed away and then let everyone fight it out on their own; but this only puts off the bad feelings and can often cause lasting rifts among siblings. This strategy of secrecy also doesn’t address what happens if you become incapacitated and need one of your trustees or agents (in all likelihood one of your children) to take over your affairs.

A better option than secrecy may be to invite your children to your final meeting with your estate planning attorney.  If the attorney is willing, and if you have good relationships with your children, this may be a good move.  It could give you an opportunity to share your plans in the presence of a knowledgeable professional who is on your side; it also gives your children the opportunity to ask questions and get clear and immediate answers. More often than not tension about mom and dad’s estate plan stems from a lack of understanding, or a worry that mom or dad have been taken advantage of.  

Such a meeting might be especially valuable where you have remarried and plan to provide for your new partner in your plan, before providing for children, either yours or your new spouse’s.  A meeting might help explain your wishes.  Ask your attorney for his or her view on this when you discuss your plan.   While a family meeting is not for every familiy, still for many it can be reassuring, educational, and put everyone one the same page while moving into the future.