Family Harmony, It’s Your Estate Plan – But It’s Your Family That Will Live With It

While family harmony is generally at the top of most client’s list of concerns, it is often the case that the process of planning an estate is very secretive.  The discussions are limited to the individual(s) whose estate is being planned, the attorney, and maybe an accountant and/or financial advisor.  Some of this is inherent in the attorney-client relationship, both by rule and by tradition.  But, it is never the Client who lives to deal with his or her estate plan.  It is the family that is left behind.  While others may differ in their opinion.  I generally recommend making your family aware of what you are doing and, where appropriate, involving them in the decision making process.  Ultimately, you will need to make the final decisions, but if your goal is family harmony, unexpected surprises rarely help.

What are some things you can do to help prevent discord after you are gone? 

  1. Have a plan.  Even if you don’t involve your family, make sure you have a plan.  No plan is usually a prescription for a hot mess.

  2. Speak with your family as a group or as individuals about what concerns they may have before you get started. 

  3. Be honest with yourself and your advisors about individuals in your family that may create difficulties.

  4. After the plan has been created, have a family council where the plan is explained.

  5. Pick good trustees.  Many times a professional trustee is worth well more than the cost.  They are better trained to do some of the difficult tasks.  They can complete the task more efficiently.  They will not be bullied by difficult family members.  They will be impartial.

If family harmony is one of your goals, take the time to involve your family and do the things that will give your family the best chance.

Todd Hallock