An estate plan contains arrangements for handling your affairs in case of incapacity or death. Many people concentrate on the material aspects of estate planning—the distribution of assets through a will, for example—but fail to address important considerations such as medical care during times of incapacity, or the guardianship of a minor. Because estate plans can have far-reaching consequences, thorough planning needs to involve the whole family, and is best done before crisis strikes. Although end of life planning is a touchy subject, talking about it is an important step. When everyone understands why you are making certain decisions, and there are open channels of communication, there is less room for contention down the road.
If you are putting together an estate plan, contact an attorney at the Fargo law firm of O’Keeffe O’Brien Lyson Attorneys.
Plan Your Discussion
- Pick an appropriate time and location for the discussion;
- Make a list of your assets;
- Have an agenda prepared;
- And set a schedule and stick to it. Plan a follow-up if important matters remain unaddressed.
Often family members do not see each other except during holidays, celebrations, or time of mourning. Though it may be convenient to call a meeting while everyone is in town for such an event, you risk dampening the mood or further burdening people who are already stressed. Plan a time when things are calm, and use teleconferencing if necessary for out-of-town family to participate.
Questions to discuss with your family:
- Who inherits my assets upon my death?
- Are there assets I want to pass on during my lifetime?
- Why are the assets allocated in this particular way?
- Who will take care of my family members?
- Who holds what powers and responsibilities?
- How will my business be handled?
- Where do I keep my important legal documents?
- What are my funeral wishes?
It is quite possible that uncomfortable points will come up during your discussions. Perhaps there is an estranged family member whose inheritance you wish to minimize, or you have a troubled child and are concerned that a large inheritance may be misspent. Although it will be awkward to air such concerns with your family members, you need to make your wishes are clear to everyone. Sweeping difficult situations under the rug may result in forcing your family members to litigate these issues after your passing when no one has a clear idea of your intentions and emotions are running high.
Sometimes people need to be reminded that “fair” and “equal” do not necessarily mean the same thing. If, for example, you have contributed substantially to the down payment for a house for one child, it may be fair to reduce that child’s inheritance. By communicating ahead of time why you have made certain decisions, you can prevent misconceptions or misunderstandings, and you will give your family members a chance to discuss your reasoning and voice their concerns while you are present to facilitate the dialogue.
Although a lot of the discussions you should have with your family members do not need to involve an attorney, it may be beneficial to have a legal professional explain the details of certain documents or responsibilities to key persons involved in your plan. Contact an attorney at O’Keeffe O’Brien Lyson Attorneys or call 701-235-8000 or 877-235-8002 to set up an estate plan that best suits your family.
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