5 tips for discussing your estate plans with family

Planning your estate is a key component of any financial strategy, but one aspect many people overlook is the importance of discussing the details of your estate strategy with your family. There are many reasons for this; chief among them, it can be awkward or potentially create conflict among family members.

While the decision of whether to disclose your estate strategy and at what level to your family is a personal one, hosting a family meeting can give you an opportunity to share the “why” behind your decisions. Plus, having a group meeting as opposed to talking to family members individually can help ensure that everyone is on the same page and avoid miscommunication.

We’ve outlined some tips to help make the discussion go as smoothly as possible.

1. Think about the meeting objective.

Before you get everyone together, you first want to ask yourself what the goal of this meeting is and what level of information you want to share. Is it strictly informative or do you want feedback from family members? If it is purely informational, you’ll want to state that at the beginning of the meeting to help set expectations.

On the other hand, if you’re open to feedback, you will want to set aside some time for an open discussion. However, it is important to be clear on who will make the ultimate decisions.

2. Decide who should attend and invite them.

At a minimum, it’s important to invite those individuals who are named in your documents. It’s your choice to invite the beneficiaries of your estate or at least those who will be impacted directly and immediately by the transfer of your estate. If there are beneficiaries outside of your immediate family (such as friends or distant relatives), you may want to have a separate meeting with those individuals or discuss with them privately.

You may also want to consider inviting your financial advisor, attorney or any other trusted professional. Your professional team could help provide education and answer questions. Letting your family know in advance if a third party will be present can help avoid any potential discomfort with having an “outsider” attend.

3. Determine the role of your professional team

While you know your family best, your financial advisor, or other professionals who were instrumental in helping you plan your estate, can provide useful advice and guidance to help ensure this and any other future meetings are a success. Additionally, the Edward Jones Trust Company provides a variety of services to help you plan, manage and execute your estate.  

4. Determine when and where the meeting should occur.

The time and location of the meeting should not be overlooked as it can have an impact on the meeting’s success since it sets the tone for this and any subsequent meetings. Will you have the meeting at your home or in a neutral location like your financial advisor’s office or maybe as part of a family vacation?

When weighing the pros and cons of each location, you’ll want to consider how convenient it will be for everyone to attend. Fortunately, thanks to advances in technology, it’s easy for people to participate via video conferencing. Just make sure the meeting location has reliable internet and technical support. 

Tip: Taking notes during the meeting will be helpful for the people who attended the meeting and for those who couldn’t be there.

5. Be as transparent as possible.

Even though the topic of transferring your estate can be delicate, it is important to be as transparent as possible to avoid any “surprises” after you’re gone. This can potentially mean delivering news or information that certain family members may not want to hear. However, withholding information can sometimes have the opposite effect of what you were trying to accomplish. Remember, the “why” behind decisions is critical. Also, remember to discuss the issue of confidentiality and what information can or cannot be shared.

Tip: You’ll want to follow up after the meeting and possibly schedule annual gatherings to keep the lines of communication open.

Important Information:

Edward Jones, its employees and financial advisors are not estate planners and cannot provide tax or legal advice. You should consult your estate-planning attorney or qualified tax advisor regarding your situation.