Other than taxes, life’s end is the one certainty we can all count on. Yet, in spite of this inevitability, only about one-third of American adults have prepared a will, according to a 2022 survey conducted by Caring.com.
Many respondents reported that their reason for not having a will was not fear of death, but feeling that they don’t have enough assets to leave anything behind. A will, however, isn’t a document reserved for the wealthy. Even those with more modest means will have things to pass along, such as a vehicle or objects of sentimental value, and it’s worth taking the time to figure out how you would like them to be distributed.
Another important decision is choosing your executor, or the person who will be tasked with carrying out the terms of the will and administering your estate. A bank or trust can also serve as an executor, though they do so most frequently for those with substantial assets.
Once you do have a will, you’re under no obligation to share what it says with your children or other family members. However, talking to your kids about what’s in your will can prevent potential conflict, resentment, and disappointment.
Here are a few reasons why speaking openly about your will may benefit you and your children.
It makes things smoother, logistically.
Given that so many people don’t have a will, you’ll want to let your family know that have one, and where it is located.
“One of the hardest tasks of administering an estate is finding all the necessary documents: deeds, insurance policies, bank account information, divorce records,” Daniel Clement, a New York attorney, told HuffPost.
“Whoever is the executor of the estate should be given access to the documents and know where they all are,” he said.
This means you will likely need to publicly identify your executor (or executrix, as female executors are sometimes called). This is usually a spouse, but may be a child if your spouse is deceased or unable to perform an executor’s functions.
You can give your children an opportunity to express their preferences.
You may decide to divide your estate evenly among your heirs, but there are certain things that can’t be apportioned.
“If there are particular heirlooms that mean something that cannot be divided, a request may be appropriate,” said Clement, mentioning watches, rings, china, silverware and photos as items that children may want to claim in advance when given the opportunity.
Even if you have a strong relationship with your children and communicate with them openly and frequently, it’s possible that you don’t know their preferences regarding such types of inheritance.
“There are material items that may have greater sentimental value for some family members than others. Communication is key,” Vinita Mehta, a Washington, D.C.-based psychologist, told HuffPost.
If your children know that you have a will and are open to talking about it, they may also be more likely to request that you make changes to it, for example, after a birth, death or marriage.
While talking about money is often uncomfortable, “adult children will likely appreciate the opportunity to discuss their parents’ intentions and gain greater insight into the choices their parents are making concerning their will and estate,” said Mehta.
If one child has had children of their own and another has not, for example, the one without children might feel resentful of their sibling getting more money. Hearing out this concern, and explaining that you intend the money to be used for your grandchildren’s college education, may help them not feel so slighted.
“Ideally, an adult should be able to ask about it when they start having curiosities or worries about their parents’ will. It can open up a discussion about their feelings about the future as well as the relationship,” she added.
For example, you may assume that one child wants to inherit a family business in order to continue running it, but, until you ask, you can’t be certain what your child’s long-term plans are.
It will also provide an opportunity to explain your decision-making.
Your children may disagree about issues other than who has been appointed executor. Other conflicts may arise, and you’ll only have the opportunity to step in to help resolve them while you’re still here.
Not sharing the contents of your will “could lead to hurt feelings and conflicts among siblings when it’s too late to resolve them,” said Mehta.
Sharing the will in advance may encourage you to take the high road.
Knowing that you’ll have to deal with their reactions while you’re still here can motivate you to make your will as equitable as possible.
“Don’t use your will to address slights,” Clement advised.
“If you treat family members differently, you are going to create rifts and tension,” he added.
It will give everyone the chance to work through any disagreements.
If, after hearing out your children’s concerns and explaining your decision-making process, you can’t all come to a consensus, sharing your will now gives you the opportunity to enlist outside help.
“This might be a time to consult with a family therapist, or even a lawyer with a background in wills and estates. Being able to discuss these conflicts in a structured environment could help all family members feel seen and heard,” said Mehta.