Do you have to talk to your family about your will?

You don't have to tell anybody what's in your will. If you think of those old movie scenes where the lawyer is sitting behind the big desk and the family has gathered around on the couch. There's somebody strange in the corner that nobody knows. And the lawyer opens the fancy will and the seal and reads what's in the will. Often we find out that the person we don't know about in the corner is the one who's inheriting everything under the person's will.

That doesn't happen these days, and most states don't require you to have the formal ceremony of sitting down and reading the will out to everybody in the family. But you don't actually have to tell anybody what's in your will. They'll find out when you're gone and somebody has to present that will to the local probate court and the personal representative or the executor has to divide up all of the property.

If You're Not Going To Tell Anyone

If you're not going to tell people what's in your will, there is something you should at least do and that is making sure that somebody in your family knows where your original will is located. If nobody knows where the will is, how is somebody going to find it? That creates an amazing amount of litigation in this country. A lot of lawsuits over where's the will, especially if you find two of them. Even worse if one of them isn't dated, then we've got quite the fight to figure out which will be the will that is legally binding?

The reason to tell them where it is is if it's in a safe deposit box, they can hopefully tell you to get it out of there. If you leave your will in a safe deposit box, and the box is just in your name, when you die, the only way to get access to your will is for somebody to go to court and get a court order to tell the bank to open up the safe deposit box and get your will. So what you want to do with your will is make sure it's an easily accessible place. It doesn't have to be sitting out in the open you don't have to show it to people on the front hall table when they come in for the holidays. But you want to make sure that your will is accessible along with your healthcare documents.

If you're working with my firm, you get a copy of the My Personal Planning Essentials checklist (and even if you're not a client, you can download it for free and start using it right away). It lists what documents are in your estate plan, where the originals are kept, all the important people, your insurance agents, your accountants, your financial advisors, your attorneys, and some information about online passwords and funeral preferences. All of these things should be accessible to your family members in case something happens to you and then need to get access to it. If you're not inclined to tell anybody what's in your will, there are some things that you may want to at least tell somebody about.

Why You Should Tell Someone

If you have children who are under 18, you want to make sure that somebody knows who their guardian is under your will. You don't want this to be a whole fight and the children shipped to a different state to live with a grandmother who you don't want them to live with when you have a clear directive in your will that you want the children to go to your brother or your sister. These guardianship provisions are very important for children who are under 18, and while you may not want to say how much money is going to who and where other things are going onto your will, it's important that your family understands what would happen to your children if something happens to you.

I've sat around more than enough family tables at the holidays and heard discussions about wills. Now even in my family, we hear a lot of different things. I always get told, "Hey, did you hear about so and so's will?" or "you know what my grandparents did this in their will but I'm not sure what my parents are doing." There are many different stories told at those tables.

You don't actually have to go through what's in your will with your family, but it's important that people know where to find it so if something happens to you, they can make sure to get the right copy of your will and make sure the right things happen that you're intending to happen.

Next Steps

If you've just been through some holidays, or you have a will and you don't want to discuss with anybody, but you might need some changes, then let's have a little conversation. You can schedule a complimentary Legal Strategy Session and we can review what documents you have. Let's make sure you have the right things in the right places, the right guardians, the right trustees, and that your health care documents are up to date. Because even though you don't have to talk to others about what's in your will, it's important that you know what's in your will that the right people are in the right places.

Andrew Ayers
Connect with me
I work with business and estate planning clients to craft legal solutions to protect their legacies.