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Having “The Conversation” or “The Talk” With Your Adult Children About Their Inheritance

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.

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Are Estate Planning Online Documents "Good Enough"?

We get asked all the time by people about whether or not an estate planning online document would be “good enough.” The bottom line with the do-it-yourself options and the online options is that they are not state specific.

Each and every state in the country has their own nuances and their own unique rules, and many of the generic form databases and/or online functions do not meet the nuances of each state. I have actually seen, in several cases, where they advertise that they do, and even the paperwork that the client receives says that it does, but in reality, it simply does not. 

The other major issue that I have with online estate planning tools is that it is “junk in” and “junk out.” What I mean by that is they are going to ask you questions that you have to answer that will determine how the document will be drafted. If you do not know the answer or know the implications of the answer that you are giving, there is no way that you can know whether that document will work at the time that you need it to. 

I also worry about the unknown and about implications and situations that are currently not a concern but become so in the future. Most of the online or do-it-yourself forms are very short, very simplistic, and very basic.

The problem with that is what happens if a beneficiary is receiving public benefits at the time of your death? What happens if an individual receives money outright and is in a horrific car accident and kills 10 people? There are so many variables that change estate planning that are just not accounted for in the do-it-yourself or online programs.

One rebuttal that I often hear is that they do not have enough money to worry about those situations or those minor exceptions. I certainly appreciate that and respect that, but I think in some cases, that is a very easy cop out and is a very short sighted answer. It does not take a lot of money to have an unforeseen incident occur to lose it and to be extremely hurt and disappointed over the consequence of that action.

For example, a client recently went the online program route and had planning done, but unfortunately had a stroke and needed to go into a nursing home. The person lost all of their assets because the planning was not done correctly, and the family is very regretful that they made that decision. 

The gentleman made a very conscious decision, that he saved a couple hundred dollars and did his documents online because he did not feel that he had enough to warrant our services and our expertise. To the individual, a couple hundred thousand dollars was not a lot of money and he could not justify the expense of using our firm versus the cost of the online program. Unfortunately, the gentleman lost several hundred thousand dollars to the nursing home simply because he used an online form that did not provide for the advanced planning that would be needed. This is a very common occurrence, where people can’t seem to justify the investment and having planning done appropriately, because in their eyes the amount of money that they have doesn’t justify the excess expense.

This is a very glaring example of how he did save a couple hundred dollars, but in return he lost a couple hundred thousand dollars of his hard earned money, that could have gone to his family. The children and I have had several conversations about it and one of them even was encouraging him to hire our firm to get the work done properly. The son just could not understand why dad went with the cheap option online after he was warned, numerous times, by me and others.

It is very sad these days that online companies and attorneys who do not specialize in an area are able to market that they are a one stop shop and do everything. When in reality, they don’t and their documents don’t provide for the same things.  Beware of saving a couple dollars or a couple hundred dollars when the risks to you and your family are much greater than that. Go to a specialist who understands estate planning, elder law and asset protection and can give good advice and can provide personal assistance and not just a form document that gets spit out of a computer. 

If you would like to learn more about this, please contact our office at 717-845-5390.