Telling Your Children About Your Estate Plan

Death and taxes – they are the two certainties in life. But how often do we actually talk about them with those we love? There are many reasons why telling your children about your plans in advance makes sense. Here are a few things to keep in mind: 

Avoid Surprises, Set Expectations

Having a conversation about your estate plan can avoid surprises as to who your executor or trustee is, and “who gets what.” The conversation will give you a chance to explain your wishes. For example, maybe one child was chosen as trustee because of geographical location or specialized knowledge or skills. Maybe one child is receiving more for the cost of a future wedding while the other siblings have already had their weddings paid for. The best approach to such a discussion is typically talking to each child individually, not as a group. You may have a series of conversations instead of one long one.

Get Feedback

Once your children know your plan, they can give you feedback, which you are under no obligation to take into account. Perhaps a child doesn’t care about that cookie jar that has been in the family for three generations, while another child really treasures it. If you know this information ahead of time, you can avoid hurting feelings by giving a cherished item to one who doesn’t care over one who deeply desires the object. Perhaps you are considering giving more to one child, but that child would actually prefer to receive the same amount as his or her siblings in an effort to avoid negative feelings from them after your death. Knowing this child’s preferences in advance would allow you to make an equal distribution and ensure everyone’s happiness.

Save Taxes

Planning in advance, depending upon the value of your estate, may help you make a decision to make lifetime gifts instead of gifts at death. This is especially helpful if there is a child who could use extra funds now. Many parents would also prefer to see and experience their children or grandchildren enjoying the fruits of these gifts while the parents are still alive. If you are thinking about making lifetime gifts, however, be sure to discuss your plans with a qualified estate planning attorney.


Setting expectations, getting feedback, and making choices about how gifts are given combine to create family harmony. When everyone understands who will receive what and who will be handling the administration of the estate, there are no surprises. When children feel heard, they are happier. Explaining your wishes in advance also adds a personal element: children can walk away not only knowing that “this is really what mom or dad wanted,” but why it was important to mom or dad. That extra level of personal understanding is not something easily achieved through a bequest in a will or trust. Needless to say, when this level of personal understanding is achieved, there are fewer disputes among siblings both before and after a parent’s death.

Whether you choose to tell your intended beneficiaries about your estate plan in advance is a personal decision, and one that, like your estate plan, must take your unique family dynamics into account. If you are wondering about how to best approach your unique situation, contact Mammel Law at 248-644-6326.

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