It is very rare for us to assist a family with their estate planning that we are not asked from the parents whether or not they should talk to their adult children about their estate planning and about the inheritance. For years, I always recommended to clients that they have the conversation up front early and often with their kids. I always believe in full transparency and no surprises. Particularly in a situation where you may be providing for charities, other outside individuals, or maybe are not providing for your children equally.
I would always recommend to the parents that they try to let the children know that they plan to have the conversation and when. Giving the children a chance to come to grips with the fact the mom and dad are going to be talking to them about death and potentially the future. I always recommended that they do it around the period when there is not a lot going on in the children’s lives such as buying a new home, having a new child, or some major life event.
For years I would hear from clients who were so glad that they did have the talk with their kids and maybe even had several conversations. Although kids are typically skittish about talking about death, once you have the conversation they’re grateful to have an insight into your thoughts, ideas, and where you are headed. I have very rarely found children who didn’t want to carry out the wishes that mom and dad intended. Typically, the problem that we run into is if mom and dad did not tell the children clearly about what they intended the children end up fighting over the intent of the parent. Having the conversation ahead of time typically eliminates the issue with fighting about intent later.
I recently had several clients come back to me and tell me that the conversation did not go well and that the children and their relationship changed because of it. I tried in several of the conversations to dig a little deeper to figure out exactly what happened and where things went wrong, but unfortunately I was unable to get enough detailed information to ascertain where the issue arose, what the issue was actually all about, and why it has changed the relationship.
Due to the fact that I was unable to truly dig to find out what happened in the context of the conversation, I am hesitant to still not recommend having an open and honest conversation. My one client specifically said that he wished he would not have had the conversation ahead of time and it would’ve been better just to allow the documents to speak for themselves and allow him to die. I understand where he is coming from, especially since he believes that having the conversation changed the relationship.
I still believe that it is better to know that up front, and to be open and honest and know where you stand. The bottom line is that it is your estate planning, and you do not need permission from anybody, including your children, about doing it. Having the talk with them is more to make their lives easier after you are gone, and honestly is about them and assisting them moving forward, and also making mom and dad feel good. I do feel bad that a couple of the conversations didn’t go as planned, but maybe it opened up other issues that were there anyway, that were going to come up and maybe now better than later.
We wish you nothing but the best in having the conversation with your kids about the inheritance and your estate planning. It is always a good idea to have your attorney have the conversation with them as well to have a third party providing the information. We often have this conversation at no additional charge for our clients to help guide the conversation.
Please contact our office if you would like to discuss your estate planning or have us assist you in discussing these issues with your children. For any questions or help having this difficult conversation with your family, contact us at (717) 845-5390.