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How much info should you give your family about your estate plan?

When you're creating your estate plan, you'll need to determine what details you want to share with family members and what to keep to yourself. Of course, there are some things you'll need to discuss with at least one or more family members. For example, you need to get someone's agreement before making them your executor or trustee or giving them power of attorney or other fiduciary responsibility.

It's also essential that your executor, and perhaps others, can access your estate planning and other important documents and contact information when you die or become incapacitated. This includes access to passwords needed to get into accounts to pay bills. It's also wise to have a copy of your burial or cremation wishes separate from your estate plan and accessible (meaning not in a safe deposit box that's solely in your name).

If you're disinheriting a child, leaving one child significantly more or less than the others or leaving everything to your beloved housekeeper or the local animal shelter because you've already given your kids plenty, it's best to give your family a heads-up on those decisions. They may not be happy, but at least they'll know the decisions were yours and you weren't unduly influenced by anyone. This can prevent legal battles when you're gone.

Discuss the provisions you've made in your health care directive for end-of-life care as well as treatment (or lack thereof) if you become permanently incapacitated with the appropriate person(s). Of course, your health care proxy should know, as they'll be overseeing your wishes. You may want to discuss them with other family members too.

When it comes to telling family members specifically what they'll be inheriting (or not), things can get tricky. It's often best not to give dollar amounts. Those can change over the years.

Further, if you have an adult child who's married to someone whom you suspect (or hope) won't be in their life for long, often it's best not to give details about their inheritance. There are ways to leave a child money in a trust that can't be accessed by a spouse in a divorce (or by other creditors). A general statement like telling kids or grandkids that they'll be provided for is sometimes all that's necessary and advisable.

Everyone's situation is unique. Your attorney about how much information you should share with family as you develop your estate plan.

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