Founder and Author of the Side by Side Planner
If I have learned anything in more than 15 years as an estate planning attorney, it’s that there’s really no such thing as a “normal family.” That’s because every family is beautiful, whether your “family” is your children and grandchildren, beloved nieces and nephews, or a network of close friends.
That’s why online estate planning tools don’t work: they aren’t customizable enough to work for a real-life family. Real families are too important to risk. I have seen too many sibling relationships fall apart after the death of a parent over what’s “fair.” In extreme cases, contests or disputes lead to permanent family fall-out.
A good estate plan can do more than just preserve relationships: it can even heal old wounds or set things right within a family. Only you know what you think is fair for your beneficiaries.
Here are two easy tasks that can help you ease possible tension when it comes to your plan:
Write a letter to each beneficiary in your own handwriting: Writing to your beneficiaries individually will give you a chance to speak privately to them and tell them each why they’re important to you. Even if you create a revocable living trust, the details of the trust may not be completely private, and your beneficiaries may wonder about your choices.
A hand-written letter goes a long way to convincing a beneficiary that your decisions were considered with thoughtfulness and professional guidance. You may want to have your letters witnessed by two other people when you sign them. This will be helpful in the event of a dispute.
Make a video recording: Your face and your voice carry so much meaning for your loved ones. If you’re truly concerned that one of your beneficiaries will find a decision unfair – such as the distribution of a family heirloom – hearing your reasons straight from the source will do a lot to help your loved ones move forward.
You can capture a video recording with your phone and the help of a friend or a tripod, just make sure that you download it to your computer and make it accessible in some way to your loved ones after you pass away. Keep the video on a flash drive or CD with your estate planning documents.
Though it will never be possible to capture the fullness of your life on paper or in a short video recording, a comprehensive estate plan will include everything that’s most important to you.
In my last article, I discussed the three key lists to keep with your estate plan. See “Estate Planning 3-2-1 – Part 1: Three Key Lists to Keep With Your Estate Plan.”
Next time, there’s one task that can make or break your estate plan. What is it? Stay tuned. See “Estate Planning 3-2-1 – Part 3: One Task That Can Make – Or Break – Your Estate Plan.”