Ah…one of the most common questions estate planning lawyers are asked: to tell or not to tell what the will includes. When clients ask whether or not they should share the details of their estate plan, we typically try to steer clear of offering any kind of definitive, hard-lined answer. That’s because we simply aren’t privy to the family dynamics. What we do tell our clients, however, is to consider the family as a whole and the individuals who define it. The truth is, some families are aware of what an elder family member is leaving to whom and in other families, some members are never made aware of the details until the will is actually read. Statistically, it runs about 50/50. With more than $300 trillion in assets that will be passed by between now and 2050, it’s clear this isn’t a quagmire that only some families face: nearly every family will face this at some point. So what should you do if you’re asked, “What is in the will?”
Experts have a different opinion, though. They tend to encourage transparency, which is fine if it works for you and your family. One reason, they explain, is so family members know that there is a plan. It’s less about what’s in the will and more about the fact that a will actually exists. But they also caution against the disagreements that come up after a loved one has passed; they can be brutal. But remember, as estate planning lawyers, our loyalties and focus is on our client; our job is to protect them and provide legal guidance. We know that sharing with the family the details of a will or trust can create problems and other times, some clients are surprised when the revelations cause no problems at all.
Experts explain that the disagreements between heirs can be devastating. They say that the fights that can erupt between siblings over cherished possessions that weren’t clearly allocated can be epic. They also explain that the resentment that follows the reading of the will can drive a wedge between surviving family members forever.
In a perfect world, these types of discussions wouldn’t complicate family dynamics, but we’re human and sometimes, there are more questions than answers.
The reality is there are many times when the doors are open for these types of discussions and real change can happen. That’s the quagmire, though: only you know how any family member will likely react. No one knows it better than you, including your estate planning lawyer. While transparency is good for many families when it comes to inheritances, not every family should be having a frank conversation. In some families, there isn’t a baseline of trust or communication on which to build. It can be a slow dance that you feel as though you’re not leading. That’s OK, though, because again, you can determine what you tell, to whom you tell it and when it feels overwhelming, you can back away.
Want to review your own estate planning efforts? Contact DeBruyckere Law Offices, PC today.