My experience with clients in working with them on their estate plan is that all too often there is a lack of communication among the family members regarding the client’s estate planning needs. It is never easy, and quite common, for individuals to avoid dealing with issues of death and incapacity with their loved ones. For this reason, many clients avoid talking about the plans they have made, or wish to make, with family members who play key roles in the estate plan. Those members of the family or friends who are playing key roles in the estate plan, such as Executors, Trustees or those who are appointed as Agents under a Power of Attorney, should be advised of these roles so that they are not taken by surprise when they need to fill them.
An additional problem is that goals that the client may have established in their estate plans may be diminished or even undermined without such communication. For example, clients almost uniformly want peace and harmony among family members after the client’s death or disability. The best way to achieve that goal is with communication. A surprise in the disposition of assets or the individual selected to serve in key roles, can disrupt family peace and harmony when the client has died or has become incapacitated. It is not uncommon for anger and other negative emotions that have been bubbling under the service during the client’s lifetime to surface when the client has died or has become incapacitated. Sibling rivalry can, once again, come to the forefront and anger that would otherwise be directed at the client is now directed at the sibling or other family member.
Perhaps if the client explains his or her reasoning in person that matter could be settled and conflict avoided after the client’s death or capacity. There is no question that emotions of anger and fear can become amplified without such communication. This not only makes the processing of the client’s estate plan problematic but it can also significantly fracture remaining family relationships.
Therefore, I urge my clients whenever possible to communicate their wishes to their loved ones and explain their reasoning behind the choices made in their estate plan.
~ Mark Harris