If you have a significant estate to leave to your heirs—but you are still alive and well—to whom does that significant estate belong, you or them? This seems a silly question: of course the property belongs to you, but many adult children have come to count on the property their parents will leave them, and—rightly or wrongly—to feel a sense of ownership over it. As potential beneficiaries, do your heirs have the right to be informed ahead of time of your plans for your own estate?
David Cay Johnston, in his article Learning to Share, suggests that although parents have no responsibility to inform their children of their plans, not talking to your kids about your estate plan is a surefire way to foster hurt feelings and interfamily fights after you pass away. Sharing your plans for your wealth may not always be easy, but even the most ardent supporters of the privacy of the would-be decedent will have to agree with the logic of Johnston’s argument.
Our office understands that every family and situation will be different, and some parents will have good reasons for keeping their plans under wraps. But in many circumstances, whether your intention with your estate plan is to ease the way for your heirs or merely to ensure that your wishes are carried out to the letter, open communication with your children or potential heirs is the best way to support the accomplishment of those goals.