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What do I need to share about my estate plan?

Putting together an estate plan is an important step. It helps us to get a better understanding of our finances because it forces us to review all of our assets. Once we have gotten everything in order and finalized our estate plan, the next question is often what do we do now? Do we tell people about it? If so, who? Once we decide who to talk to, how much should we tell them?

The answers are deeply personal and will vary for each family. However this piece will provide some generalities that will help you decide the best way to move forward with these discussions.

The ideal

Ideally, it is generally best to discuss the estate plan with those it impacts — at least of the generalities. This may not include a definitive discussion of who gets what or the value of the estate, but instead can touch on the importance of each heir getting a certain percentage.

It is also often helpful to discuss any unequal treatment. It can help to ease the transition if you discuss the reasons for this treatment when one heir is set to get more, or another is intentionally left out. One may have a child with special needs or chose a career path that does not provide a steady income while another is financially successful and does not have the same needs. Whatever the reason, letting your decision be known so the heirs are aware that the move was intentional and not the result of a last-minute decision made under duress can save the estate from a costly and emotionally draining court battle.

The minimum

In the least, it is important to fill in those individuals who serve in a fiduciary role. Those you appoint as a health care proxy, for example, can benefit from advanced knowledge of this role. This can prepare them mentally to take on this role and may even provide an opportunity to discuss your wishes to better ensure they fulfil the role in a way that respects your wishes.

It can also be helpful to leave an explanation of any unequal gifts or excluded heirs if you are concerned that the estate distribution could trigger a battle. It can help reduce the risk of a legal challenge to the estate if the heirs know the reason for the disparate distribution.

The tools

Regardless of how much you choose to tell your loved ones about the estate, the legal tools you use can help to better ensure the estate transfers in line with your wishes. A will is one valuable tool, but some may find the additional control that comes with a trust even more beneficial. A trust can include more specific directions about how the funds held within the trust are used. A common example is using a trust to help pay for higher levels of education for grandchildren and other loved ones.

These are just a few of the tools that can help to better ensure your estate plan meets your needs. It is a good idea to discuss this and regularly review your plan with legal counsel to better ensure it meets your wishes.