What and When Should I Tell My Kids?

Parents who have gone through the estate planning process typically ask what information they should share with their children and when. The answer requires balancing many factors, but can be boiled down to a simple concept: Take responsibility and own up to your decisions, and don’t leave it to your kids to fight about it.

First, if a child has been left out of a Will or is receiving less money than other siblings you may want to tell them so, and why. Clearly this is not a universal approach, but taking responsibility and informing them up-front allows the child to reconcile this fact. This will also help minimize your other children having to deal with the dispossessed child’s bitterness in the future, or feel as though they have to resolve it by giving their sibling some of the bequest you have left to them. While this does give the child time to plan a legal offensive, you (as the person with the money) have many more weapons at your disposal, such as trusts and accounts that avoid the publicity associated with Probate. Of course, you should NOT inform them there is a secret trust you have created to dispossess them. If there is open acrimony between that child and his or her siblings let the other siblings know your plans.

Next, if you have named a child as your health care proxy or power of attorney you should inform them of this when you believe they are responsible enough to handle your health and financial needs. You should also let the child who has not been named know. If you are about to have invasive surgery or are diagnosed with a terminal illness you should inform them if they are your living agents and give them copies of your power of attorney and health care proxy, and you will want to tell them where your Will is located.

I suggest never talking about estate planning matters with minors; the topic is a bit too grim for them to stomach. Conversely, if your parents are your designated agents you should let them know immediately.

Lastly, let your children know your attorney’s contact information. This will allow them to contact your attorney when you are in need of him or her.

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