The Importance of Communicating Your Estate Plan

So you’ve done the work of creating an estate plan to protect yourself and your assets should the unexpected happen:

  • You have prepared a springing financial power of attorney, a HIPAA authorization, and a health care proxy. These documents allow you to authorize the people you want making financial and medical decisions for you to make those decisions when you are unable to.

  • You have a living will, which allows you to express your wishes for end-of-life decisions, so your love ones won’t have to argue about what you would have wanted.

  • You have a will and a living trust to pass your assets to your loved ones in an organized way, helping to avoid infighting, disputes and hard feelings.

  • You may have even gotten more advanced estate planning documents and techniques to minimize taxes, get government benefits or accomplish some other goal.

These are all valuable documents. Many people fail to do this type of planning and preparation, leading to extra stress and disputes among their loved ones, and large amounts of hard earned assets going to the government and attorneys in order to figure out what should happen to them and their assets.

Unfortunately, you have not yet completed your work. These are powerful documents, but many only go into effect if you die or become incapacitated. These aren’t like deeds filed with the state so that anyone can look them up. These are private documents that are only effective if people know about them and can produce them. Apart from this practical reason to let people know about your estate plan, there are a number of other, more personal, reasons to let people know about your estate plan.

Locating Documents

One of the more practical reasons to communicate your estate plan is so that your proxies can find and produce your documents. For example, if no one knows you have a medical proxy and a living will, then they will be unable to use them to make medical decisions for you or relay your wishes. You create these documents in order to avoid conflict between your loved ones in a stressful time, and to communicate your wishes. You can have documents that give very clear and detailed instructions, but they are useless unless your proxy knows about them and can provide them to your doctor. It can also be useful to let your doctor know that you have these documents and what is in them. This will allow them to know your wishes so they can help guide your loved ones, even if they do not find the documents.

The need to communicate your estate plan is also very valuable. Your executor cannot submit your will into probate if they do not know where it is, or how to find it. Even if you let your executor know where your will is, you should also let them know how to get to the will. If they are unable to access the will- for example if the will is in a safety deposit box- your executor will need to get a court order to get to a it.

Avoiding surprises

With wills and trusts, speaking to your future heirs about your wishes is almost always a good thing. Communicating your wishes eliminates future surprises and gives you time to clear up any misunderstandings. One of the main reasons you create wills and trusts is to avoid conflicts and distribute your assets. If you speak to the beneficiaries beforehand, you can avoid future will contests and hurt feelings.

Alerting proxies

In your estate planning documents, you will choose people to act for you when you cannot. In some cases you will have to bring your proxy with you to sign the documents, but in many cases you do not. You should always speak to the people who you choose as proxies so they know what you expect them to do for you. With many estate-planning documents especially trusts, health care proxies, and financial powers of attorney, you may give your proxy a large number of powers and flexibility so they can respond to changing circumstances. Because of this power, you will want to give the proxy as much info as possible so they will be able to act in these changing circumstances as you would. On a more basic level, you will want to discuss their responsibilities with your proxy to ensure that they are willing and able to carry out these responsibilities.

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