Planning Your Legacy

How to Talk to People About Their Role in Your Estate Plans

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Perhaps one of the biggest reasons you're working on an estate plan is to minimize the stress and possible family drama after you pass. While your actual plan will go a long way toward doing that, one way to be more successful is to talk about your plans with those who will play a part in them. Let them know exactly what their roles mean and what they will be expected to do.

Here's a conversation guide to help you think through what you want to say. Keep in mind that these are just examples and that you should make this as personal as possible and include additional examples if necessary to make the role clear.

I've asked you to be my health care power of attorney.

What this means is that you will be the person who will: Step in to make health care decisions for me if I cannot make such decisions for myself.

I'd like you to do this because: I know you will carry out my wishes. You are logical in high-stress situations. You have experience making health care decisions.

Circumstances when you'd be needed are: If I were unconscious or incompetent to make health care decisions, you'd act on my behalf.
Decisions could range from ongoing care or basic medical decisions to emergency decisions in a life or death situation.

Additional information you might need to know includes: Why I've made the health care decisions I have and where any supporting documents are located.

I've asked you to be my durable power of attorney.

What this means is that you will be the person who will: Step in to make financial decisions for me if I cannot make them for myself.

I'd like you to do this because: I trust you to manage my finances. I know that you will be available and willing to devote the time it takes to make these decisions.

Circumstances when you'd be needed are: If I were unconscious or incompetent to make financial decisions, you'd act on my behalf.
You might pay bills, make deposits to or withdrawals from my investments.

Additional information you might need to know includes: Why I've made the financial decisions I have and where any supporting documents are located.

I've asked you to be my executor.

What this means is that you will be the person who will: Work with my attorney and other financial advisors to settle my affairs after my death.

I'd like you to do this because: I trust you and know that you are detail-oriented. You have experience working with professionals.

Circumstances when you'd be needed are: Settling my affairs after I die. This can include filing taxes, paying bills and making sure all of my property goes where I've decided it should go.

Additional information you might need to know includes: The process I have created with my attorney and when you should contact the attorney. Optional: How and when people are receiving items.

I've asked you to be my trustee.

What this means is that you will be the person who will: Take charge of the assets placed in my trust.

I'd like you to do this because: I trust you to make sound financial decisions and deal fairly with beneficiaries.

Circumstances when you'd be needed are: If I have a trust, you'll manage those funds for the person who receives the funds.

Additional information you might need to know includes: The plans I've made and decisions I'd want made in different situations.

I've asked you to be my children's guardian.

What this means is that you will be the person who will: Raise my children who are younger than 18.

I'd like you to do this because: My children know you and love you, and I trust you. If I can't raise them, I feel good about you doing it in my place. I know we share the same beliefs and values.

Circumstances when you'd be needed are: Raising my children, deciding where they go to school and all other matters regarding everyday living.

Additional information you might need to know includes: Details about how I want my children to be raised.

I've asked you to be my beneficiary.

What this means is that you will be the person who will: Receive benefits or assets I am leaving behind.

I'd like you to do this because: I know you value what I’m giving you and will use what I leave you in a positive way.

Note: Depending on your family situation, you may or may not want to notify people you will be naming beneficiaries.

You may want to ask your attorney for additional tips on telling family members about these roles, and if there are any general procedures the law office follows. People will want to know the specifics of who to contact and how to reach them, especially if they need help outside of normal business hours.

Anticipate that there will be questions. If you don't know the answer, write the question down and follow up with your attorney and then discuss again with the person you've named.

Don't have an attorney to walk you through the process? Legal insurance can help.

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