Creating an estate plan that family members understand

Some people in Pennsylvania who have a will might want to think about whether additional documentation could be useful in their estate plan. Wills and other estate planning documents can cause conflict between family members, but often this is because they do not understand the rationale behind the plan. However, there are ways to convey this rationale to loved ones.

The first step is to make a list of all assets, their value and their beneficiaries. No asset is too small or insignificant: In one case, a brother and sister spent over $750,000 in legal fees arguing over a father’s surfboard. Next, a person should write a letter of intent. This explains the reasons behind the decisions made in the estate plan and may head off any claims by family members that the person’s intentions are not reflected in the plan.

Choosing the right people to administer various elements of the estate plan is also important. For example, people often choose a spouse as executor, but this role may be too taxing for some in an emotionally draining time. If there is a trustee, a professional may be a better choice than a family member because of the level of expertise required. A guardian is the person who will care for any minor children. Finally, a person should review the estate plan regularly as family and assets change.

People may want to talk to an attorney about choosing people for other elements of the estate plan. Someone who is appointed to make medical decisions in case a person becomes incapacitated needs to be calm and compassionate under stress. A caregiving or healthcare background may help. On the other hand, the person chosen for financial power of attorney may need to be someone who is detail-oriented and responsible and able to manage potential conflicts between family members.