Family Conversations: Beyond the Will and Trust

January 5, 2016

Having a will and trust in place is an important step to protect your family and make sure that your assets are distributed according to your wishes, but a will and trust often don’t communicate everything your family should know when you’re gone.  This New Year, I encourage you to take these 3 important estate planning steps that go beyond the will and trust.  Steps that are easy to take and frequently overlooked, even by estate planning attorneys.

 

Have a Family Meeting

 

Reviewing the will and trust with your family is important.  Yes, the documents themselves should be clear, but beyond the legal description is the ‘why’ behind what you chose, especially if there is something unusual.  Explaining the reasons for your choices can help get the whole family on board with your decisions and avoid any hurt feelings.  For example, if you left money to a charity, explain to your family why you chose to do that.  If you left more money to one of your children, explain your reasoning.  It can really help to avoid conflict in the future.

 

Write a Letter

 

A will and trust set the legal description of what should happen to your estate.  However, your legacy is more than just your money.  Consider writing a letter to your family that sets out the legacy that you want to leave.  Consider giving your family affirmation of what you see in them, encouragement for the future, and your desire (not legally binding) for what you are leaving to them.  A letter can be a treasure that sets out what is important to you and what you want for your family.  A letter can also help explain to your children in plain language what you want for their future.

 

Organize Your Accounts

 

This last step seems so basic but is so important.  One of the most difficult and time-consuming steps of dealing with an estate is finding all of the accounts.  Have a simple list of your accounts including the company name, type, and account number.  Take some time this New Year to put it in a safe place and tell your family where it is.  Also, take some time at least each New Year to update the list so that it stays current.

 

I remember when my first child went off to college.  It was an emotional time and yet, as my wife and I drove away, I couldn’t help feeling a bit of contentment.  There was nothing unsaid between my daughter and me.  I had poured into her everything that I could and it was time for her to have a new chapter in life.  As you plan for your estate, consider more than just the legal ramifications of the will and trust.  Consider what needs to be said.  When it is time to leave, you will feel better knowing that you left nothing unsaid.

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