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A family meeting can prevent some disputes over your estate plan

You may feel uncomfortable bringing up your estate plan with family, and some family members may even try to change the topic when you do so. However, many benefits can come from talking with your loved ones about your estate plan.Communicating at least the basics about your estate plan to family members can prevent family infighting and probate disputes. This conversation can also help make sure everyone understands your wishes and is prepared to take on any necessary responsibilities when the time comes.

When to call a family meeting

Once you have created the estate plan that makes the most sense for your situation, you may want to call a family meeting to discuss your estate plan. Try to avoid planning your meeting for holidays or other celebratory times. Instead, schedule a meeting dedicated to the purpose of discussing your estate plan. You may be able to use a recent death or a friend's probate experience as a way to introduce the topic.

What topics should be covered at the meeting

When you meet with your loved ones, understand that talking about money and death can be uncomfortable for everyone. You may be able to avoid some pushback by focusing the conversation on your values. For example, you might value being prepared over making your loved ones guess what you would have wanted, or you might value living comfortably over living longer. Whatever your values are, let those be some of your main talking points.

You may also want to include any plans or information that could affect your loved ones. For example, you may want to share

  • Who your legal and financial advisers are
  • Where your important financial information is kept
  • Where your estate planning documents are kept
  • If you are living within your means
  • Who will make financial and/or health care decisions if you cannot
  • Who will handle other responsibilities related to your estate plan
  • What your end of life wishes are

You may also share what is in your last will and testament. You may be as general or specific as you like, but this may be an opportunity to set the record straight about what will or will not be passed on. This allows beneficiaries time to come to terms with any discrepancies between their expectations and the reality about their inheritances.

Also, if you choose not to treat every child equally, consider explaining why you chose to do that. For example, if you have a child with significant debts or with a substance abuse problem, you may have chosen to put that child’s inheritance in a trust instead of leaving it to him or her outright. An honest explanation can help prevent a child thinking he or she was loved less, and it could even inspire a child to turn his or her life around.

Take time to address concerns

Once you have explained your wishes, expect that your loved ones may have some lingering questions. One of the benefits of this conversation is that you will be able to address any concerns your loved ones may have, which may help avoid problems when it comes time to implement your plan.

Also, if one of your loved one’s concerns particularly strikes a chord with you, you may still be able to make some changes to your plan. However, you should never feel pressured to make changes that you do not want.

Ultimately, it is up to you to decide how much about your estate plan you are willing to share with your loved ones. However, the information you share in a family meeting can help your loved ones understand your choices. Sometimes an understanding of your values and wishes is enough to prevent possible fights or probate disputes later on.

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    — Christine and Robert Simonson, Fairport
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    --David and Ajia Cherry, Fairport
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