Friday, August 8, 2014

What do I Tell My Heirs?

When a client completes an estate plan, I am often asked whether they should give a copy of the documents to their children, or otherwise share the content.  Unless there is close relationship or unusual circumstances, I generally advise the client not to do so.  I do recommend that they give a copy of the Durable Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy to both the primary and the alternate appointees, because those are documents that might have to be accessed quickly in the case of sudden illness or catastrophe. But otherwise,  I encourage clients to keep the contents of the other documents to themselves.  Even if assets are distributed equally among children, one may be appointed in a fiduciary role, which may insult another child.  One child may feel that he or she is entitled to more than their equal share.  One may have special needs that warrant giving such child a larger share of the estate.  There may be an asset (such as a vacation home) which some children want but others don’t.  Any or all of these, and many other circumstances, may create ill will among the children that the creator of the plan would rather avoid. There are myriad circumstances that warrant keeping the information private until death, so that the children have no opportunity to influence a parent to make changes during life time.  It is best to make your own assessment, and you may determine that keeping the information to yourself is the best course of action.