Updated on 11.19.10

Handling the “Estate Meeting”

Trent Hamm

Sometime during this week, I’m planning on sitting down with my siblings and my parents and hashing out the specific details of their estate – who will be the executor, how it will be split up, and so on.

My parents don’t have a large estate, but they do have a number of personal items that different individuals are going to want. Some of these items have significant value. I am almost sure that there are going to be some hurt feelings by the end of this meeting and, frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if the discussion was quietly postponed.

But not by me.

Having watched this process begin to unfold – and having watched similar processes unfold with other families that I care deeply about – and coupling that experience with a lot of personal finance reading, I’ve come to a number of conclusions about this process that I thought I would share with you today. Perhaps, during the coming week, this will give you food for thought as you meet with your family.

Don’t put it off. Don’t. This is going to be a difficult discussion for many families, and it’s often tempting to postpone the discussion so that the day can be pleasant instead of challenging. Don’t. Every time you postpone, you put your estate at risk of being handled by the court system instead of according to your wishes. Not only that, you’re allowing the concerns of others in your family to go unresolved, too. Don’t let the problem just sit there – solve it, together.

Don’t exclude anyone. Everyone who has a stake in the situation should be involved in or at least aware of the decisions involved. This can be quite difficult, but the ramifications of not doing it are worse. By excluding some, you’re ensuring infighting, mistrust, and anger among those involved. While doing it face-to-face is not a perfect antidote, it at least can minimize the problems that can arise.

At the same time, don’t be afraid to talk about this beforehand with the people you care for the most – and trust the most. Let these people be your advisors and help you to come up with a plan for your estate. Yes, some of them may have a stake in it, but if you’re concerned about them giving you false ideas out of a desire for a bigger chunk of your estate, are they really worth bequeathing things to? Seek trusted people while you’re hashing out your ideas.

The relationships post-estate have value. One big factor that many people don’t consider during this process is the state of relationships after the estate is resolved. Will siblings and other family members be able to get along, or will they not be on speaking terms and only see each other in court? Will they embrace each other and help each other after the funeral, or will they be mourning not only you but the loss of their relationships with their siblings?

Your estate doesn’t just contain financial assets. It also contains a great deal of impact on the feelings and relationships of those left behind. Those have significant value – in my eyes, in many situations, the value of those feelings and relationships are more valuable than the items left behind.

If someone makes an unusual offer or claim, get it in writing or ignore it. These situations can be emotionally charged and people might make statements along the lines of, “I want no part in this.” If you hear things like that, wait for the emotions to cool, then ask them to state their wishes in writing so that it’s recorded and clear for everyone. If they won’t give that to you, then it’s clear that their statement was merely blowing off steam and should be disregarded. If you insist on emotional responses being binding, you’re doing nothing but damaging long-term relationships.

This is the estate holder’s property; they can do with it what they choose. If you’re involved with such a process, recognize that the person or people making the decisions about the estate are human beings. Just like you, they have lots of feelings about lots of different things. They are close to some people and not as close to others. They have human failings, just like you do. What they choose to do with their estate is their decision and it’s based on all of these factors. If you’re angry about the decision, remember that in the end it’s their decision – no one else is responsible for it. Don’t let jealousy of what someone else is getting cloud your vision of the situation. Most of the time, it’s due to either the flaws of the estate maker or due to a lot of time and care shown by the person getting more that you could have done – but you made a different choice.

(At this point, it might be clear to reader that I’ve seen some very messy estate situations.)

Do it correctly. Once the plan is in place, do it correctly. Have the will or trust properly executed and notarized and leave the documents with a trusted individual, such as a family lawyer. Make sure that it’s binding and that there won’t be questions after the estate holder passes on.

The big thing is to keep the process as open as possible. If you set things in stone or make changes, make those actions clear to everyone involved who may be impacted by the choice. This will offer the best route to long-term family peace.

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  1. Paul says:

    I’m curious, in the “include everyone” section, would that apply to family by marriage? example, my inlaws have three children, each is married. should I, as an inlaw, have a say in this matter?

  2. Cheryl says:

    DH and I are only children, so we haven’t dealt with this situation. I did see how my grandparents estates were handled. They had little money, but many “things”. The 5 siblings put numbers 1-5 in a bowl, then each drew a number. Based on these numbers, they got to choose what heirloom they wanted.

    Another note: It might be well to have an “uninterested” mediator if you anticipate discord.

  3. Shelley says:

    I would say in the “include everyone” secion that would NOT include to the family by marriage. This is going to be hard enough. I have 4 other siblings. 4 of us are married. One of the siblings has pretty much taken all of my surviving parent’s liquid assets so this is not a pretty picture to start with. This would just further complicate an already difficult situation.

  4. Des says:

    I have never heard of such a meeting. I would expect that these details would be spelled out in your parents wills rather than being up for debate among heirs. How awkward for everybody. Are these types of meetings typical?

    We chose the executor of our estate based on who we trusted and approached them personally to ask if they would be willing. If we had valuable items, we would will them as we wished rather than gathering everybody in a room to bicker over them. How is bickering beforehand any better than bickering after the death?

  5. Kerry D. says:

    My in-laws wisely gave power of attorney to TWO of their children, with complimentary skills–one, very attentive to details and paperwork, the other with excellent people skills and seeing the big picture. The timing of the choice, while still relatively healthy, was also wise–they saw the potential for decision making on the part of some of their children to be not necessarily in their best interests (putting them in a nursing hone early, selling off assets, etc.) This set up kept the parents safe from pressures while alive, and settled things with no friction afterwards. It worked very well.

  6. Kathy F says:

    If there is only one parent still living, this is also a good time to discuss getting health care directive, power of attorney documents for situations if the parent becomes temporarily or long-term incapcitated and cannot make decisions. And one meeting is probably not going to handle it. Find out what type of funeral arrangements they want, if they have any preference. This will save a lot of agonizing and potential arguments later.

    If no estate planning has been done before, the parent(s) will have to probably think about things a bit and what different options are available (living trust, will, beneficiary forms). Also there are other ways to pass on assets outside of the will and those should be considered also, like Payable on Death forms and beneficiary forms. Make sure the will instructions don’t conflict with those. Many times people fill them out and then forget about them. They take precedence over what is in the will.

    Make sure the executor has a signed copy of the will. In two cases, people have made me executor, but then I only found out about it by happenstance. And neither had bothered to give me a copy of the will (neither have died yet). Make sure the person you pick as executor wants to be executor and is competent. It may or may not be a good idea to have a family member. Executors must have time, ability,be organzied, patient,trustworthy, willing to deal with a lot of details etc.

    My mom is asking me and my three siblings what personal possessions we might be interested in when she passes and she is writing it all down. Our problem is more that we don’t want a lot of her stuff- we all have too much of our own.

  7. valleycat1 says:

    I thought the risk of a court handling one’s estate is only if you die without a will (or if one of the heirs thinks the will is not valid).

    I’m with Des #4 on this – the estate division decisions would be made by those setting up their will, & they decide how specific they want to be. Even Trent says: This is the estate holder’s property; they can do with it what they choose. So what are the heirs doing calling everyone together?

    The only meeting before the will is executed might be the parents sitting down with the heirs & saying, ok, this is how we’ve set this up (if the parents think the kids have a reason to know beforehand).

  8. Karen says:

    I agree with Des #4, it is often best if parents formulate their wills without a group meeting. Awkward, indeed.

    When there is property (sentimental and valuable) to be split between heirs, it makes sense to have an appraiser come through first and put a dollar figure on everything. After the items are distributed, the total value received by each heir is then balanced by the amount of cash they receive. So the sibling that gets the heirloom vase ($$$) receives less cash than the sibling who chooses the blender.

  9. Kathy F says:

    If it is not too sensitive of an idea, try to find out who wants what items in advance. When my uncle died, he left items to people who had no interest in them. Like he left his 70s era law books to his executor (also a lawyer) who then just disposed of them because they had no value since they were so out-of-date. Same thing with a 70s Volkswagen camper van. The recipient did not want it, the estate could not find a buyer for it, even for low price of $500 and so it just got donated in the end. Likewise lots of books left to a certain beneficiaries. They had no interest in them, so we had to donate most of them to the library. He left all his antique furniture to two nephews who had did not want the items- not their style and they had no room for them. They also lived out of state. So that stuff got sold off at auction netting not that much money. Some of the things that people were interested in like his computer and his Land Rover vehicle were not listed in the will and then we had some wrangling over that. So maybe find out what people do want in advance.

  10. Chapeau says:

    Several months ago while walking down the street in my small town I spotted a very dear much older friend, standing on her porch, wrestling with her wicker (real, honest wicker **not plastic looks like wicker**) porch furniture. When I tried to help her put the love seat right side up, she stopped me with a fabulous explanation.

    One of her grandchildren had mentioned in passing over the phone that her favorite memory of her grandmother was sitting on the porch in her wicker furniture. My friend, after getting off the phone, grabbed her tape and a black permanent marker and wrote that grandchild’s name on the tape, and was turning the furniture over so she could put the tape in a hidden location.

    Her will explained her system (her lawyer was also aware of it), but none of her heirs did. Any time one of them admired a piece of furniture, dishes (we live in a town that once had 3 glass factories), or bric-a-brac, she “assigned” it to one of her children, grandchildren, or other friends. The heirs had no idea that she was doling things out in this manner, so they didn’t pester her with requests. She was close enough to the grandchildren that she knew who would appreciate certain things, but she wanted to make sure.
    She recently moved into a nursing home, and her children/grandchildren helped her clean out the house before she moved. They were astonished by her planning, but glad to know that there was no potential for fighting.
    Fortunately, she got to see that her system worked, and how much they are all enjoying her things.

    On the other hand, my mother was the executor for her parent’s estate. Ouch. It took three years to “settle” things (Still not entirely finished, because one of her siblings still remembers things he “know[s] I’m supposed to have”.) Fortunately, a family member bought the homestead from the estate. Unfortunately, the junk in the garage and barn is still there.

    And be very careful that your lawyer is not a nitwit. Legally speaking, “share and share alike” is not the same thing as “to be divided equally”. Can’t remember which, but one means everyone has an equal share in all property (everyone owns one fifth of each and every single probate-able asset), and the other means that things can be divided in a reasonable fashion (for example, the one who lives out of state gets the cash/stock, while the local ones get the rental properties, as long as everyone gets the same value and can agree on the split).
    Ugh. I wished I was an only child or an orphan on more than one occasion during the whole mess.

  11. Christy says:

    I wish my brother and I would have had the estate talk before my dad died. What an absolute mess. The talk is not so much what everyone gets as more of the what to do when the parents die, funeral arrangments, what to do with the house, stocks, bonds, property and letting people know they are there. If it wasn’t for my grandmother telling me about some stocks, they would still be sitting out there, no one else knew about them. The estate talk is more about the wishes of the estate holders and opening the door to the eventual end. Nursing care, DNR’s, power of attorney, living wills, medical consents and the paper work you need to keep your parents healthy, who gets to pull the plug, that kind of talk.
    If my father would have talked to us kids, we would not have had to sell everything as fast and as cheap as we had to. Six years it took to settle his estate and then a trust. Six years of pure nightmares, nasty phone calls, our individual credit getting tied into the estate,the lawsuits, the notices being served, the lawyer getting most of the estate and everything my parents worked for went to the taxes, lawyers, and unpaid bills.
    My suggestion to everyone, have the talk, do it while your parents still know what is going on. Don’t wait until you have to worry about how to pay for the funeral or when a doctor comes up and says who has the power of medical attorney we need to discuss life support. DO IT NOW

  12. partgypsy says:

    Hmm, I guess I haven’t heard of this being a group meeting. Good luck and let us know how this turns out.
    Neither of my parents have a will, because “there will be nothing by the time we die”. But two of my siblings (who do not get along) live with my mother in her house. If my Mom dies with no documents, this will be a mess, because they will both not want to move out, but can’t afford to buy out the other sibs for the price of the house.

  13. Evita says:

    Oh boy, I cannot imagine having this kind of meeting while my dad is still alive (he is 87 and very clear-headed). I know he made a will and frankly this is enough for me.
    Dividing my mom’s estate was relatively painless since neither none of her children are greedy by nature.
    I wish you the best in this endeavor, Trent, and please keep us posted on how it went!

  14. partgypsy says:

    Yeah stuff can get ugly very quickly. What I would do is have the kids ahead of time state their preferences and wishes for things. If people want the same thing (or everything), again can do a round-robin deal go in order, picking items till all items are chosen. It’s not perfect but then people have to prioritize what is most important. But for everyone to be there in the parents’ faces, possibly arguing or having to make the parents choose in front of them, that is not necessary.

  15. Kim says:

    Talk about awkward! This whole article and how Trent is discussing it with his parents and siblings is extremely AWKWARD. Sounds like the siblings will have way too much input. A lot of the decisions like who is to be the executor, how it will be divied up, etc. need to be done by the parents only. Sounds like the parents need a trip to an estate lawyer before they sit down with their children to discuss their estate. The parents need the help of some educated experts who can be analytical about the estate before the emotions of the children get entangled in it. As mentioned above, there is more to estate plannng than dividing assets. There are medical proxys, power of attorneys, funeral arrangements, etc. etc. that are just as important. Get some of these ducks in a row before you all sit down as a family. Although I do agree finding out what physical assets the kiddos want is a great idea.

  16. Maggie says:

    I agree with people that it is awkward for anyone besides the estate holder to call such a meeting. I feel like the more appropriate meeting would be about the living will stuff and the medical power of attorney. Maybe appropriate to ask if they have done estate planning, but just in the we want to be sure your wishes are carried out kind of way. The way you are describing it is a hash out who gets what and that just seems wrong. We just lost our mom, we lost our dad 8 years ago. We learned from the experiences with my dad’s illness, and my mom had designated a medical power of attorney and a regular power of attorney, and we all knew what her wishes were in terms of what sort of life saving measures she wanted taken.

    I have an in-law whose family is having a series of who gets what meetings, but they were entirely instigated by the parents, not the heirs. That said, they are evidently still quite awkward, but they are going along with the parents’ wishes.

  17. leslie says:

    It is astounding to me how many people don’t have this conversation. It is not necessarily to divide stuff up…it is so you know the wishes of the people planning their estate. Not only their wishes but what the estate might entail —- property, stocks, cash, safe deposit boxes and where everything is. Where do they want to be buried? Or do they want to be cremated. Whomever has health care power of attorney has to be very, very clear on what the persons wishes are in various scenarios.

    The current debate in my husbands family is about who has health care power of attorney. Apparently, my father-in-law (my husbands step father) has decided that he wants me to have that responsibility. The way it has been explained to me is because he feels that I am the person most likely to carry through his actual wishes and not be swayed so much by the emotions of the moment. Well, for some reason this has really made my sister-in-law (his step daughter) terribly upset. Why? I have no idea.

    This just goes to show that you never know what kinds of decisions are going to cause issues.

  18. Kristine says:

    My in-laws just did with 2 of the 3 boys there. (one lives faraway, but he was consulted and clued in. The are in their 80s, and the eldest boy is 58. About time!

    The established an irrevocable trust to protect the house. The family lawyer took care of everything- copies sent to all brothers, and the final fee was about 7K for all: assests, investments, property…

    M question is this- we rent, and have little. My children are almost grown. Is legal zoom sufficient?

  19. Kristine says:

    wow, my Y key is not working well!

  20. mk says:

    Having an “estate meeting” doesn’t just apply to elderly parents. It also applies to unmarried siblings, especially those without significant others. My bachelor uncle passed away last year. He died without a will, he did not have a significant other and he had extensive investments. My mother is handling his estate and has had to hire a forensic accountant/IT person to comb through his computer in order to track down the financial threads of his life. It’s a mess.

  21. ellie says:

    I found this very interesting. Years ago my husband and I made out our wills, dividing everything equally among our three children and providing instructions for disposition to grandchildren if their parent predeceases them. At the same time we started an annual report to our children, reminding them where legal papers are, detailing current investments, and giving an update as to our health.

    Our intention is to have no surprises or secrets. The children seem to appreciate our efforts; and, in fact, have all begun the same type of thing with their children. Why wait until you are “old” to take care of these things?

  22. Gretchen says:

    Totally agree with #4.

    Yes, you should have a will. But it’s odd to me to have a *meeting* about it.

  23. Sheila says:

    #22, so you have the will that says, for example, how much $ each heir gets, but how do you know where that money is located? If you don’t find out where the bank accounts are, where the safe deposit key is located, where the life insurance policies are held, etc., you’re going to be in big trouble.

    Two years after my father died, I found unclaimed property for him. One was a refund of an auto insurance premium sent to an incorrect address. The other was a CD from a bank that I had no idea he had money in. We hadn’t had the “talk,” although I was the trustee and thought I knew where all his accounts were located.

  24. Ryan Loos says:

    I have seen too many of my clients with family relationships in the pits, because no one wanted to talk about this when the parents were still with them. I have seen a family split over $10,000 (five kids) and they are still not speaking to each other 5 years later. Have the tough conversations and talk to your parents/loved ones about appointing a proper and possibly independent executor/executrix.

  25. Mary says:

    Many people have posted about problems with siblings after the parents pass away. Now imagine all that angst, anger and jealousy directed at the parents. This is one reason that attorneys do not recommend discussing the contents of the will with the heirs. As parents become older and more frail, the balance of power shifts, and they may be bullied or browbeaten about their arrangements. I think with reasonable, loving people who respect boundaries, Trent’s idea can work. It might be useful to ask yourself, if you are planning this talk, how you can balance everyone’s need to be heard and the parents’ right to be in control of their arrangements. Another thought- it might not be wise to discuss how specific items will be given. An item of significant value is the first one I would think of selling if a parent began to run out of money later in life.

  26. Michelle says:

    My in-laws called their 3 children and their spouses to a meeting to discuss their estate. They talked to us about how the trust was organized, identified their executor, assets, noted what sentimental items would go to whom, long-term care insurance and burial preferences.

    My in-laws had done such a good job of estate planning that this meeting was about informing their children of their decisions not polling them about their opinions. It offered an opportunity for everyone to ask important questions. Spouses are considered a part of the family so were welcome to the discussion. In fact, spouses were often able to ask more pertinent questions because they were one step away from the emotional nature of discussing parents’ deaths.

    The topic made it a sometimes a difficult conversation, but not awkward. In fact, it was quite a reassuring and bonding kind of thing. These 3 siblings are no strangers to bickering with one another, but this conversation only created respect for Mom and Dad and understanding between one another.

    That said, there is a big difference between the estate holder calling the meeting and an heir doing it. Though I see no reason why a child or other family member should not encourage them to do so, if someone other than the estate holder initiates the discussion, it automatically shifts the power structure.

  27. Kelli says:

    I am in agreement about having this discussion for the reasons #11 listed as well as #23. My parents, for all I know, don’t have a will. I have no idea where they want to be buried. Health care directive? Psh. Nothing. I/we have no clue. So we need to have the meeting.

    At least we are all adults now. For a while I stressed out because my brother was a minor and they had sat me down at 18 and told me if anything were to happen to him they’d want me to take care of him, but then I had no clue what kind of paperwork was in place to actually back that up if the horrible were to occur.

    Of course it is going to be awkward to talk about when someone at the table is going to die. But it is about more than, “I want the house” and “I want the collector car” and “I want the golf clubs.” It’s not about being greedy, it’s about being clear.

    #12, I feel bad for your situation! Perfect example of why to have the discussion TODAY. I think my parents are the same, they think there won’t be anything to divide up once they are gone, but they don’t know they won’t be killed tomorrow. The whole thing reminds me that DH and I need to get our own ducks in a row.

  28. Ashby says:

    This absolutely needs to be done, but maybe not at a holiday gathering when emotions are already at the front. Make sure there is a will, make sure that the testator’s wishes are clearly stated as to disposition of property and the tax liability for the inheritance (if applicable). Remember that in every state, inheritance is governed by state law if there is no will. Please have a professional prepare the will as handwritten (holographic) wills are only valid in a limited number of states, and handwritten codicils to a formal will may not be valid.

  29. valleycat1 says:

    #17 Leslie – My in-laws tried to put me in their wills both as executor and having the health care power of attorney. My husband would have been ok with that (in terms of me being able to be more objective, not that I’d favor his interests), but there’s no way I’d get between my sister in law & her dad’s life or estate. Just not worth the battle we all know she will wage no matter who is making those decisions.

  30. Gerhard says:

    “This is the estate holder’s property; they can do with it what they choose” should be number one on the list. Some people feel a sense of entitlement to stuff, even if it does not belong to them.

  31. Nate Poodel says:

    @#12 partgypsy
    Your parents may have nothing now but should they die in a car accident, by medical malpractice, or other accident there may be thousands or even millions of dollars at stake. Then it may be an all out war amount the relatives. Simply put GET.A.WILL!

  32. Cindy Brick says:

    Better to have the meeting now, uncomfortable or not, than try to guess what they wanted when the time comes.

    My folks chose to do this — a big relief on all our parts. (My dad had incurable cancer, and we knew his time was limited. My mom is still on earth.)
    Husband’s mom had a very clear trust that was quite specific. That was the good part. The bad — she was so caught up in specifying for her sons that the daughters-in-law (who all have been married to their respective spouses now for more than 25 years) were generally ignored. Since Mom never expressed much affection for me, or my sisters-in-law, it just seemed like an additional slap from the grave. At the very least, mention your in-law siblings with affection, so they know you cared about them!
    The other struggle was that Husband, as the youngest son (his bros were 5 and 7 years older), had children who were considerably younger. Mom’s trust provided an inheritance for her grandchildren, which could be collected as the youngest of the pair (there were three) turned 25. That worked out well for our nieces and nephews — they were all either 25 or close to it. But our girls (currently 22 and 24) have had to continue waiting, more than five years after Mom is gone. They have three more years to go…that money could have been a help for college.
    I know — it will still be a help for the downpayment on a house, something like that.

  33. Amy B. says:

    Lots of good comments here – as many have said, life is full of unknowns. When my parents were in what could have been a fatal car accident in their 50s, my father and I began a frank dialogue about what was where, and I was put on the signature card for the safe deposit box where the critical documents are kept.

    Last year, when my mother-in-law fell ill, my brother-in-law took a week to comb through file cabinets, old statements, etc. so that we all knew what resources were available. Even my father-in-law didn’t know as he was never the primary financial manager. 15 months later, we are still finding things (assets and obligations).

    Know what documents are done and outstanding. Know what insurance programs your loved ones participate in. Know what obligations are out there.

    Every family is different – some have it all outlined, others exist under the philosophy of “ignorance is bliss.” Just know where you stand, and dealing with everything else will be a lot easier.

  34. joyce says:

    I am printing this and giving a copy to my parents. Obviously by the commments left, you have touched on a big issue.

  35. getagrip says:

    I applaud Trent’s effort to get the issue on the table while his parents and in-laws are healthy enough to make there own decisions. While it would be great for the parents to bring it up, they often won’t. People don’t like planning for their own deaths, they don’t like discussing these things. If nothing else, raising it will increase awareness that they should be thinking about it and hopefully take some action.

  36. Evangeline says:

    The thought of implying ‘Hey let’s sit around and decide how you’re going to divvy up the goodies.’ smacks of greed and control–even though I know that’s not what is intended. I love how my mom handled her estate and advise everyone to do something similar. Shortly after Dad died, she began to handle small but important details like adding joint holders to accounts, changing beneficiaries, etc. Periodically, she would hand me something and say, ‘Here. Put this with my papers.’ As the person handling all the details, she knew I would need these documents should anything happen. As she said so plainly, “I don’t need my will. I know what’s in it. You’re the one that will need it.” She did ask us kids if there was anything particular we were interested in ‘when the time came’ and she took it into consideration. When she became ill and passed away very abruptly, I was very prepared. I had a tiny packet containing medical powers of attorney, her will, life insurance, passwords, lists of accounts, funeral information and the name and number of the her attorney. It turned an already difficult time into something manageable. It was still hard, but at least the decisions had already been made and I knew I was fulfilling her last wishes. I encourage everyone to please love your family and friends enough to help them navigate those difficult days. It’s also important to know you don’t have to do it all at once, just get started.

  37. cng says:

    Trent, I’m curious: do your family members know that this talk is coming, or are you going to spring it on them during your Thanksgiving get-together? I would hope that they have had some fair warning so that they too, can get their thoughts together and prepare themselves for what you have well described as a difficult and emotional discussion.

  38. partgypsy says:

    #31 I totaly agree, but they are stubborn and even though we are in our 40s or late 30’s keep us completely in the dark about their finances. I know my Dad said he has already purchased (cemetary) plots for him and my mom but I would have no idea where any of that paperwork is.

  39. Mark Gavagan says:

    Oops – I meant “they’re right in the book” instead of “their”

  40. KC says:

    DO IT NOW…and keep up with it through the years! My father was executor to his aunt and uncle’s will. His aunt died in 1980. His uncle died in 2005. They had no children and despite being mill workers they accumulated a pretty sizable estate – about $250k. Dad didn’t stay on top of things and his uncle probably wouldn’t have helped much anyway as he was highly disorganized.

    Long story short is was a mess, a huge mess. Dad had to deal with so many things he shouldn’t have. He even had people trying to break in the house because they knew the uncle kept money hidden around the house (although he really didn’t), but Dad had to change the locks to the house and carry a pistol when he was out there. Then there were legal issues…it was just a huge mess. It would have helped if matters had been looked at in the 25 years between the aunt and uncle’s death. So…DO IT NOW and review it every so often. – even if that just involves a conversation about any changes made every few years.

  41. Anne says:

    I work in the insurance and securities industry and see estate issues every day. My best advice? UPDATE THE BENEFICIARIES ON ALL YOUR INSURANCE AND INVESTMENT CONTRACTS. You’d be surprised how often people fail to update beneficiaries after a life change such as marriage, divorce, having kids, kids growing up and being independent. For example, if your life insurance policy still lists little Janie as the only beneficiary then it doesn’t matter if your will says that little Johnny should get everything. The beneficiary designation will trump all. And we often see long-deceased spouses listed as beneficiaries. It only makes the process more difficult for everyone when you have to try to find a death certificate from 25 years ago.

    We recommend that people look at these things annually.

  42. MoreCents says:

    I would advise to have this discussion without alcohol or prior to drinks being served. Perhaps that is just my Irish Catholic family…

    Also, never have 2 people appointed power of attorney. Even if they are the most clear-headed, kind-hearted people you know, when the time comes to make a difficult choice, they may disagree and nothing moves forward until they both sign off.

    The emotional toll of a messy estate can also scar your children. The fight over my grandmother’s estate caused such a divide in my family, I have an aunt and 7 cousins that I have never met. That being said, my mother refuses to discuss any type of estate planning.

    Best of luck, Trent. Would love to hear how this conversation played out.

  43. Maureen says:

    I also agree totally with #4. My siblings and I recently divided the last of my parents’ (small) estate. The monetary portion was equally divided as per the will but smaller sentimental treasures were shared fairly and amicably. We felt it would be very dishonouring to our parents to squabble. I know it is the last thing they would have wanted.

    Staking claim to items while the person is still alive seems presumptuous and disrespectful to them. How do you think this endeavour will make your parents feel? Unless they spearheaded this, I do not think this is a good idea.

    It is sensible to encourage your parents to make a will and even to discuss their wishes for end of life care and funeral arrangements, but this crosses a line.

  44. socalgal says:

    I am not clear after reading the post if Trent is doing this on his own, or if the other family members have agreed to this. I really hope it is the latter, otherwise what an awkward family gathering. I fear Trent will be viewed as a greedy control freak if not done correctly. Good luck!

  45. Ken says:

    One way to bring up this subject with your parents is to let them know about *your* plans. Sometimes this can be enough to get a dialog going that will give some insight into their wishes, without questions coming from you that (to them) might sound like “what you got and where’s it at?”

  46. Cindy Brick says:

    I posted before on #32, but wanted to encourage your parents to do the “tape thing.” This was extremely helpful when my grandma, the matriarch of 8 children and 60-plus grandchildren, died. She marked on the underside who was supposed to get what, including valued items and Christmas presents we all had given her over the years. (Her jewelry was promptly appropriated by her oldest daughter — that’s another story.)
    If Grandma had not done that, I would have been able to keep very little from her estate. I was one of the youngest cousins, still in high school and working at a hardware store after school was out. I had very little extra money, and most of that was meant for college. To keep things “fair,” Grandma’s remaining things were sold at an estate sale. Naturally, the older cousins with more disposable income took the lion’s share.

  47. Nina says:

    Take it from someone who just completed this project for an elderly parent. It took over 1 year to get everything in order because mom just didn’t want to deal with it. I finally had to ask her if she really wanted to leave me devastated at her passing, then have me deal with the mess of her estate without proper documents. When I put it that way, she finally gave in, but it was like pulling teeth. Factor in other family members who care only about what they will receive and it’s a very stressful project. Yes, in the best case, our parents and relatives “should” take care of these things themselves. But, when they do not, and we know that after they pass, we will have to deal with the mess, it is in our best interest to be proactive. Best to all of you who are working through this process because I know it is not easy.

  48. Pam McCormick says:

    This just made my head spin! I have 2 brothers 2 sister for a total of 5 siblings and I am the oldest.1 brother is executor according to parents.They have a will,lawyers etc according to them.I do not know details.We barely get along now I am anticipating a mess at the time when they die.I might just walk away from the entire mess seeing as I have done fine so far without any help from them.Truly a sobering topic.

  49. Kate says:

    I can understand who will be the executor but not the how it will be split up. That, to me, should not be something that someone should have to even know. Unless the parents are wanting to have the meeting.

  50. Leah says:

    This is especially important to talk about if you have shared property. One of my friends was a family farmer. When his dad died without a will, his mom got all the property. She decided to not share with her boys and is instead requiring them to continue to work the farm and make the same or less than they made when his dad was alive with her living off the profits (his dad used the profits to reinvest in the farm so that they all benefitted). My friend was sure his dad intended the boys to split the farm and just give their mom enough to live off of, but that didn’t happen because there wasn’t a will and no one had talked openly about what should happen.

  51. J.O. says:

    It may be too late for my comment to matter, but I would strongly urge Trent not to do this. I’m somewhat confused by what topics he is planning to include in the discussion but it seems like the only thing to be talked about is the estate. As others have said, it is not appropriate to spring this on the parents. If they are organizing it, that’s a completely different – and acceptable – thing. It’s their estate, for heaven’s sake – no one else’s. And in the end, it doesn’t matter if they have a will or not – if kids are going to fight, they’ll fight whether the parents tell them about it beforehand or not, and they’ll fight whether it’s in writing and legal or not. This is the parents’ business, and if the family has a history of in-fighting, maybe the best thing to do is be prepared to stay away from it all, make no claims of any kind, and take sides with no one.

    If the discussion is meant to include all the other end-of-life issues, I don’t see this as a public discussion either. One or two children could privately bring this up, and after the parents make their decision it can be shared so everyone is prepared.

    In my opiniion, this is just not an appropriate conversation to start on a holiday with a house full of people.

  52. cherie says:

    I usually agree with nearly everything you say LOL

    Not this one

    I can’t imagine this situation going well unless it’s a family that would never have had post estate fights in the first place

    Most folks have said it all well, but yikes.

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