Legacy Letter

How Can I Avoid Family Fighting in My Estate Planning?

It’s not uncommon for parents to modify their first estate plans, when their children become adults. At that point, many parents’ estate plans are designed to help efficiently transfer assets to the surviving spouse and ultimately to the adult children. However, this process can encounter a number of hiccups and headaches.

Forbes’ recent article entitled “Three Steps To Estate Planning Without The Family Friction” explains that there are a number of reasons for sibling animosity in the inheritance process. Frequently there are issues that stem from a lack of communication between siblings, which causes doubts as to how things are being done. In addition, siblings may not agree if and how property should be sold and maintained. To help avoid these problems, use this three-step process for estate planning.

Work with an experienced estate planning attorney. Hire an estate attorney who has many years of working in this practice area. This will mean that they’ve seen and, more importantly, resolved most types of family conflicts and problems that can arise in the estate planning process. That’s the know-how that you’re really paying for, in addition to his or her legal expertise in wills and trusts.

Create a financial overview. This will help your beneficiaries see what you own. A financial overview can simplify the inheritance process for your executor, and it can help to serve as the foundation for you and your executor to clearly communicate with future beneficiaries to reduce any lingering doubts or questions that they may have, when they’re not in the loop. Your inventory should at least include the following items:

  • A list of all assets, liabilities and insurance policies you have and their beneficiaries
  • Contact information for all financial, insurance and legal professionals with whom you partner;
  • Access information for any websites your beneficiaries may need for your online accounts; and
  • A legacy letter that discusses non-financial items for your children.

Hold a family meeting. This is the most important one.  Conduct a family meeting that includes the parents and the children who will be inheriting assets. Let them hear directly from you exactly what your plans are.  Some topics for this meeting include:

  • The basics of your estate intentions
  • Verify that a trusted person knows the location of your important estate documents
  • State who your executor and other involved people will be and your rationale
  • Make certain that all parties value communication and transparency during this process; and
  • Discuss non-financial legacy items that are important for you to give to your children.

This three-step process can help keep your children’s relationships intact after you are gone. Hiring an experienced estate planning attorney, creating a clear financial overview and communicating what’s important to you are critical steps in helping to keep your family together.

Reference: Forbes (July 2, 2020) “Three Steps To Estate Planning Without The Family Friction”

Do I Need an Ethical Will?

An inheritance is often more than just assets.

If you want to be remembered as the person who made sure your heirs had all the information they needed about what you wanted, for funeral arrangements as well as what to do with Great Aunt Joan’s diamond bracelet, you might want to consider writing an ethical will.

25240245194_9cde86a5e5_oAn inheritance is often more than just assets. Family heirlooms, art, treasures from global adventures and stories, are also things that families share. When you prepare an ethical will, sometimes known as a “living letter” or a “legacy letter,” you give your children the ability to know what you want them to do with your belongings, and why.

Investment News’recent article, “Advisers use ethical wills to look beyond client assets,”says that a legacy letter helps the writer explain to younger generations his or her reasons for setting up the will in a certain way and what they hope to accomplish through the estate plan. In writing the letter, the donor is also adding to the probability that his or her wishes will be followed.

Some don’t like the term ethical will and prefer to call it a legacy letter.  However, the purpose is the same. Regardless of what it's called, the ethical will is simply a letter.

It’s not a binding legal document.  It is often written to accompany a formal will.

An ethical will can help uncover character assets and the values that a person holds dear. It can explain that what they have to pass on to loved ones, can be much more valuable than finances.

Even if the letters are directions about assets, they will by their very nature be personal, and your way to send a final message to those you love. You want to share your goals for your estate, and likely, your hopes and dreams for your family when you are gone.

Reference: Investment News (June 19, 2018) “Advisers use ethical wills to look beyond client assets”

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