Family Meetings

If we fail to communicate, we may leave a legacy to our children of conflict and strife

The longer I live, the more I believe that there are two major aspects in life that determine whether we have a good quality of life: relationships and communication. (With good communication, usually follows good relationships.) Why do I write about these issues in my Estate Planning article? Because I see so many clients in my practice where these elements are present, but more often, where they are absent. Believe me, I am not judging; I am preaching to myself, and with this article, sharing my thoughts with you.

I strongly suggest that we make a concerted effort to communicate with our children prior to our demise as to what we have done in our estate planning and why. I have not always believed this as strongly as I do now. I have in the past told clients that if they felt that they did not want to deal with talking to their family about issues, so be it; in some cases this may still hold true. I would say particularly where there is immaturity on the part of a beneficiary or irresponsible behavior that will hopefully be temporary (and thus the testamentary disposition will also change).

If we fail to communicate, we may leave a legacy to our children of conflict and strife. Not exactly what I want to leave my children. There are several issues that should possibly be discussed:

Who did you leave in charge of handling the estate (this person is the Executor.)? Usually, I suggest that clients not name Co-Executors. There are many reasons why I suggest this. These should be detailed to the children.

Why are we leaving assets in trust? There are wonderful reasons to leave our children’s inheritance in trust, even to our most mature and responsible children. There are also reasons to design trusts that may indicate that our children are involved in negative behavior. This may be a good time to let your children know that the consequences of their behavior may follow them even after your death.

This may also be a good time to ask our children what they want to receive, particularly in regard to personal property, otherwise known as your “stuff”. If more than one child wants a particular item, you may have an easier time making that decision, rather than letting it be a squabble between them. You may be surprised at what particular item may be sentimental to a particular child.

A very important issue that should be addressed would be your thoughts and desires in regard to artificial life support. This could definitely alleviate the stress and guilty feelings of the agent named in the Georgia Advanced Directive for Health Care.

I am suggesting a family meeting take place to discuss these issues. You may want to invite your attorney to this meeting. It may be held at your attorney’s office or at your home. I suggest (especially if you are going to invite me!) that there be a meal served, without involving the “mother” of the family having to be busy herself during the conversation. Is it unrealistic to have such a meeting? I hope not. You would obviously fashion the time together to meet your family’s needs.

My hope is that this has given you some thoughts to enhance the very thing in your life and mine that is truly priceless, our relationships with each other. As it turns out, the most important things in life are not things.