Estate Planning with Your Children

Are You and Your Kids on the Same Page?Lance Cowles

Even if your estate plans are well documented, they might not be clear to your children. Whether it’s the family vacation home or the family business, your children may need to know what to expect and how you would like them to handle the assets you pass to them, says Lance Cowles, Senior Vice President and Area Business Manager for Regions Private Wealth Management in Memphis, Tennessee.

Have a Plan in Mind

If you haven’t done so already, create a written plan to ensure your kids are on the same page with you, Cowles says. “Your family also needs to know where the plan is located and who you have named as the executor of your estate.”

Aside from making a plan, Cowles suggests updating it whenever there are changes in the family, such as marriages, births, divorces, and deaths, or when you acquire new assets.

Have a Face-to-Face Conversation

Keep everyone in the loop by having a meeting to go over your estate plan whenever something changes. Cowles recommends including your Private Wealth team and all family members when this is necessary.

The obvious advantage of face-to-face meetings is you can ensure the terms of the estate plan are clear. Including your Private Wealth team can also make it easier.

Communicate Clearly

Estate planning can be a sensitive subject for many families. “Sometimes the smallest issue can spark a rift in a family,” Cowles says. Oftentimes, it centers on a tangible asset, like the family lake house, a piece of art, or a car collection.

When disagreements arise, consider consulting an attorney who is experienced in estate planning who can provide advice on what language needs to be included in your will and other estate planning documents to ensure that your goals are accomplished. Cowles offers some additional ways to address disagreements:

  • Consider liquidating assets that are not sentimental to the family or an heirloom
  • Specifically designate special personal assets in your will, and divide them among your children at your discretion
  • Ask your attorney if a no-contest clause can be added to your will and if it will accomplish the objective of disinheriting a beneficiary who unsuccessfully challenges the terms of the will in court
  • Consider naming a corporate executor who can distribute assets and make objective decisions if you anticipate friction among your heirs.

Whichever route you choose, Cowles always recommends, where appropriate, sharing your estate plan with your children to mitigate surprises and avoid the plan being contested in the future. “Being open and honest is the best way to go about discussing your estate plan with your family,” he says.