Even among close families, the thought of having a family discussion about end-of-life planning can be very uncomfortable. Most people recognize that preparing family members for a tragic occurrence would be preferable to the alternative. However, such conversations don’t come about easily. The prospect of considering a loved one’s death is most unsettling.
Yet, the benefits that can come from such family gatherings can more than make up for any discomfort. Failure by a loved one to have a healthcare proxy may deprive family members of access to medical records and the ability to intervene on medical treatment. Take a case where a parent misinterprets the interest of children in the family home or business and transfers the wrong assets to siblings at death. Or the situation where a survivor is left to manage assets or serve as a trustee when that person feels overwhelmed. Sometimes, beneficiaries may believe they must continue to hold the bequeathed assets in kind and may miss out on sale or growth opportunities.
Survivors are normally comforted by understanding the motivations and desires of the deceased loved one, rather than speculating on the best course of action. For instance, the business owner may have the best insight into which employees could best assist in the continuation of the entity and or who might be interested in acquiring ownership. Without family participation, the best planning for the future of the business may never take effect.
Family members may worry over future decisions and other areas of uncertainty that you have already addressed with your planning. Also, you may be well served to review your plan with family to be sure your plans also fit with their future agenda.
Open questions such as who will be best suited to serve as executor, guardian, healthcare proxy, power of attorney or trustee should be reviewed with the family. Do you have a preference and what is the correct pecking order for alternate fiduciaries? Oftentimes, it is helpful to include a professional advisor in the family discussions to address administration and other related technical questions that may arise. These conversations may need to extend beyond the immediate family unit to cover grandparents, grandchildren, nephews and nieces.
Finally, even if you have had these discussions in the past, it may be time to revisit your current plan. Most professionals suggest a review every three to five years, or more regularly, if there have been family changes.
You, as the planner, will have the ultimate say as to what is right for the family, fair, and the best fit for you. But you will be more comfortable with your decisions with the input of your family and advisors.
Jack Capron is a principal based out of our Syracuse, NY office.