The Dangers of Keeping Your Estate Planning a Secret.

Recently, I’ve noticed a few clients preferring to prepare an estate plan without informing their adult children.

They have the desire to plan for the distribution of their estate after their death and to make sure someone they trust has the authority to make important health and financial decisions when an illness or disability prevents them from doing so themselves.

In most cases the planning is being done to protect other family members. In many instances family members are also being authorized as the agents to act on their behalf. Yet they prefer to complete the planning without notifying these very people.

5 Reasons Parents Keep Estate Planning Secret

Keeping your family in the dark about your estate plan is counterproductive. From my perspective there are 5 reasons why parents desire secrecy.

  1. The parents have made decisions they fear will upset one of their kids – like who they chose to be executor under their will or the agent under the power of attorney
  2. They feel if their children know how much money they have they will endure pressure to provide an “advance inheritance.”
  3. They worry the child given authority will abuse the power.
  4. Emotionally they have a hard time facing an end of life discussion. Coming in to set up the plan was difficult enough. Recounting their plans somehow emphasizes their personal mortality.
  5. They believe that discussing money issues is improper.

There may be other reasons, of course. Everyone is different. Circumstances differ.. Granted if your family dynamics are lousy, telling your children the decisions you’ve made could be uncomfortable. The reality is that it’s your life and your money. What you do with it is up to you.

When it comes to family sometimes emotions trump common sense. A good Elder Law attorney takes these issues into consideration. Generally speaking, the outcome you desire works out better if your family knows what your plans include.

The Goals of Estate and Elder Care Planning

Estate and elder care planning have three goals: To ensure your final wishes are handled of as you want; to ensure someone you trust is there to make critical decisions about your health and assets when you are no longer able to do so, and to minimize court involvement.

Keeping your plans secret foils each of these end goals.

Elder care and estate planning typically involves a number of legal documents designed to provide for those you care about when you die or have them care for you when you become too ill or frail to safely manage your life.

Legal documents like wills, trusts, financial and health care powers of attorney and advanced directives – when properly drafted and coordinated – allow someone you trust to act in your best interests without costly court involvement.

Naming a family member (or anyone for that matter) as your representative without informing them before the crisis hits slows down the process, increases the costs and may impact both health and financial decisions. Having everyone on the same page offers a number of advantages that outweigh any awkwardness you might feel.

That’s why I encourage you to bring your children along to your estate planning meeting. That way they understand the rational for your decisions and won’t have to start from scratch if you become incapacitated.