In a recent interview, estate planning attorney Michele Ungvarsky, founder of E-Law in Las Cruces, NM, revealed the dangers of keeping an estate plan a secret. —
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When asked for a comment, she said, "From what I've seen, it's become an increasingly common trend for people to keep their estate plan a secret from their adult children. However, no matter the reason to keep a plan hidden, it's extremely counterproductive."
There is a multitude of reasons, according to Ungvarsky, as to why parents might not notify their family members about their estate plan.
"Some of these reasons include potentially upsetting their children over the decisions they've made in an estate plan or that their children will abuse their power or ask to be provided with an 'advanced inheritance.' Others might be more concerned about having a difficult conversation about the end of life," she said.
While these concerns and fears are all valid, Ungvarsky mentioned that not letting family members know of decisions made during estate planning runs counter to the process's aims.
When asked to elaborate, she said, "The goals of estate planning are three-fold: to act as a guarantee that your wishes will be carried out, to put into place someone you trust to make financial and medical decisions on your behalf when you aren't able to do so and to mitigate going through the courts."
Realizing all these aims requires several legal documents, such as wills, trusts, advanced directives, and financial and healthcare powers of attorney.
"Not informing your adult children beforehand of the responsibility they have to make either financial or medical decisions can create a lot of confusion and unnecessary stress in what is likely an already stressful situation. Lack of knowledge will ultimately slow down the process," she said.
While it may be awkward or unsettling to begin discussing end-of-life arrangements, according to Ungvarsky, it's better to address issues in the estate plan to avoid problems down the line.
"Something that I advise my clients to do is discuss the estate plan telling your family of your decisions after the plan has been made. This discussion is so they understand your decision-making process and that they know the ins and outs of the plan," she said. However, she stresses to make sure your family understands that this plan can change in the future in response to changing circumstances.
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