Let’s Talk (Financial) Turkey: 6 Tips for Discussing Estate Plans With Family

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familydinnerAs an estate attorney, Jeffrey Verdon has seen his fair share of family arguments. But the one that sticks out the most in his mind was actually a saga related to his own family.

After his mother died of cancer, a battle ensued over the family company, a successful food business that he and his mother launched together. Unfortunately, she had never put an official succession plan in writing, so once she was gone, all of the children started vying for control.

“She never communicated how she expected her estate to pass, or who she wanted to be in charge of running the business, and all hell broke loose,” says Verdon, whose practice is based out of Newport Beach, Calif. Expecting a lengthy legal battle, Verdon donated his shares to charity—and his siblings fought over the rest of the company.

“The lawyers got most of the estate in legal fees, and the business was eventually sold because of poor succession planning,” Verdon says. The lesson? “It’s risky to leave your estate and financial affairs unattended,” he adds.

Unfortunately, this predicament isn’t unique to Verdon. According to 2014 research, 64% of Americans don’t have a will—including more than half of those with children—which not only exposes their families to the potential for discord, but also increases the chances that whatever assets they leave behind won’t be handled the way they want them to be.

But with the family-gathering holiday season upon us, now may be an ideal time to think about having that all-important estate planning talk. “It’s often difficult to get family members together to meet in person—except on holidays,” says Ronald Fatoullah, an estate planning attorney based in Great Neck, N.Y. “So, in that respect, it makes sense to at least spend a few minutes explaining what documents you have and why, and to set forth your wishes.”

To help facilitate your own family finances talk, we gathered tips from some estate planning pros across the country on how best to share your personal decisions with loved ones. Read what they had to say about how to prep for the talk, which documents you should have in place—and how you can help avoid family friction.

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