Discussing Inheritances with Heirs

Discussing Inheritances with Heirs

Many people are uncomfortable discussing with heirs how they will distribute their estate. Perhaps you don't want your children to realize how much they may receive after your death. Or you may think your choice of heirs could change in the future. However, if you don't discuss your estate plan, disagreements and conflicts could erupt once the details of inheritances are revealed. For instance, siblings may resent each other if distributions are not equal. Children may resent a spouse from a second marriage if they feel that spouse is using up their inheritance. At that time, you won't be able to explain your thoughts and wishes regarding the distribution of your estate.

Discussing your estate plans will give you an opportunity to inform your heirs about the distribution of your estate and why you decided to do it in that manner. You can go into specific detail, informing heirs how each asset will be distributed, or you can give a general overview of your estate plan. If you have selected one heir as executor or trustee, explain why you chose that individual. As an alternative, you can leave a personal letter with your estate planning documents explaining these items.

Even if you reveal your plans to heirs, you may also want to include a personal letter. In that letter, include information about death and other benefits, special wishes, who should receive personal effects, your cemetery and funeral preferences, and the location of your safe deposit box and important documents. At a minimum, specify where the following documents are located: income tax returns, life insurance policies, other insurance policies, investment details, a list of household contents, outstanding loan documentation, automobile titles, important warranties and receipts, checking account information, credit card details, and information about your home. This letter will help your heirs identify all assets and benefits and avoid speculation about your wishes.

Preparing the letter will also force you to organize your records and make sure all important documents can be easily located. Since the information is likely to change, review the letter at least annually.