When you start planning your estate, you will have to answer many questions about the distribution of assets after your death. There are many “technical” questions, such as will vs. trust, whom to name as executor or trustee, do you want a living will, etc. But you also have to consider the people who will be involved.
In most situations, the most important people involved will be (1) your spouse or partner; (2) your children; and (3) your parents if they are still alive. With your parents, you may be dealing more with their estate plan, so taking them out of the picture for now, the most difficult discussion may be with your adult children.
The first rule in having the discussion is: do not assume that the reasons you have for distribution of assets will be obvious to them. For example, you may have a vacation home that one of your children has used frequently for family trips, so you decide to leave it to him. If another child really wants the home, or feels that their share of other assets will be less than the value of the home, they may not know why you made the decision unless you discuss it with them.
Some parents decide to give their children different amounts of money or assets of different value rather than an equal distribution of assets. As a parent, you may have reasons that make sense to you but may not be obvious to the child who receives less. For example, you may finance one child’s college education while another went to school on a scholarship or worked their way through college.
The problem is, without your children understanding your reasoning for distribution of assets, you are practically begging for a court battle over the estate after you die. At the very least, you may have created hurt feelings among the children.
To prevent these issues, two actions may be recommended: (1) talk to your children about your plans. Talking with each separately is probably the best way. If they understand your reasoning, it may prevent the battles after your die; and (2) after getting feedback from your children, sit down with an estate planning attorney to find the best way to make your intentions work while still being fair to your children.