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Discussing estate planning with heirs

Individuals in New York who are estate planning may wonder about best practices that will ensure asset distribution goes smoothly for their heirs. There are a number of steps they can take while they are still alive to make this process less difficult for their loved ones. Communication is key. Discussing estate planning with family members can help to prevent unpleasant surprises. It is not necessary to go over every detail of one's finances, but giving heirs a sense of what they can expect is important.

One potentially unpleasant surprise is children discovering that an inheritance has been divided unequally. While the best approach is to divide assets equally among children, there may be mitigating circumstances such as one sibling being far more financially secure than the others. In such a case, explaining in advance or leaving a note with the estate planning documents that explains may help to prevent conflict later.

Individuals should also avoid appointing one person to distribute assets with the assumption that they will do so fairly. It is best to specify how assets should be divided. If necessary, this may include a method for deciding how to divide things like jewelry or art. Finally, a trust can protect assets until heirs are old enough or otherwise in a position to responsibly manage the assets. For example, individuals can specify that an heir must be a certain age in order to receive the full inheritance.

Estate planning can be complex. An individual who is preparing a will might have three biological children and two stepchildren. However, the relationship between the stepchildren and the individual may be very close. As a result, the individual may wish to discuss in advance plans to have all of them inherit equal shares.

Source: AARP, "How to Leave an Inheritance to Your Kids", Jean Chatzky, November 13, 2014

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