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Having a conversation with your adult children about your estate planning choices can be emotionally challenging, not to mention the host of potentially difficult practical decisions to be made.  But the benefits of having a conversation now can make the difference between future family harmony, or the source of family feuds, broken relationships, and money wasted on litigation.  Here are a few tips to serve as a starting point for this important conversation:

Schedule the time

Holidays can be perfect timing because everyone is together at some point.  Let them know in advance that you want to talk about it, so they can be prepared.  You might be surprised, sometimes your children are worried about getting a plan in place, and aren’t sure how to broach the subject with you.  

Make a list of assets

This is a list for you.  What are your major assets?  Do any assets have sentimental value for you or your children?  You don’t need to reveal the details or amounts of everything, but make sure you don’t forget something important.  The retirement cabin, for example, is that something that everyone wants, or no one wants or just one child?  It can be helpful for the children just to know where everything is: Dad has an account here, life insurance policy with this company, and mom has investments there, and the important paperwork for everything is in the upstairs file cabinet in the top drawer.

Ask them to list items that are meaningful to them

If you are concerned about particular sentimental items, this is an important step.  You might be surprised at what holds important memories to different children.  This might be better as individual conversations with each child.  If they submit the list to you without having to reveal it to the other siblings you can eliminate any embarrassment.  Going through the lists yourself you can foresee potential arguments and then make decisions to help keep the family peace long after you are gone.

Ask about their estate planning goals

Your children are setting up their own estate plans.  You may want to incorporate their goals into your own plans.  Grandchildren and college planning are always key issues to cover.

Discuss who will be in charge

Before you launch into these discussions, decide beforehand whether it is better to introduce this topic as an accomplished fact or solicit opinions for consideration.  The goal is to set your successor trustee up for future success by eliminating future surprizes.  

After a loved one is gone, sometimes the children are left with a lot of “why” questions.  These questions leave a hole because the only person who can answer is gone, and there is no way of obtaining an answer.  By having conversations now, those “why” questions can be eliminated.  I think you’ll find it’s an emotional investment well worth it.