Key Takeaway: Estate planning without communication can leave a legacy of entitlement. Make sure you talk to your heirs about the “why” of your decisions. You may find that the conversations bring your family even closer together.

When I help people prepare their estate plans, I emphasize the gift of communication. I’ve been working in legacy planning for years, and I have come to believe that a lack of communication can create an entitlement mentality in the generations that succeed us.

The connection may not be obvious, but when we fail to pass on the reasons for our estate planning decisions, we create a void where there could have been a lesson. Estate planning and inheritances are not about the money or other things we leave, but who we are and who we want our heirs to become.

My conclusions aren’t just due to my work with clients—my personal experiences helped me understand how life-changing communication can be. My father was your typical Stearns County German who refused to get “too” positive just in case someone took it for weakness. He never discussed the personal side of legacy—the values that we pass on to our heirs—until the doctor told him he had cancer.

In the months before my dad passed away, he opened up, telling me that it was not money that mattered, but his children. His words have shaped my life ever since. I now understood the reasons for the path that my dad had put me on early in life, and his wisdom has guided me in raising my children.

The inheritance we leave to our children, grandchildren, and (for the lucky ones among us) great-grandchildren will continue to guide them long after we are gone. Therefore, it is important that we make sure our “estate plan” encompasses more than tangible assets. Separated from any understanding of the decisions we made, the path we took, the values we held, our heirs will fail to appreciate the true cost—and gift—of those dollars. And in that absence of gratitude, a sense of entitlement can arise.

When I work with you to create an estate plan, I can show you how to maximize tax control so you can pass on as much of your money to your heirs as possible. But as your family’s leader, you have the responsibility of imparting a vision of what the family is as a whole and is trying to accomplish through the generations.

Some leaders never get the chance to communicate those values. They may be waiting till the “right time” and pass on before the time becomes right. Or they may be so reticent to discuss such personal information that by the time they are ready, their words fall on hardened hearts and deaf ears.

We financial advisors always say that estate planning should begin early in life, and I truly believe this mantra is especially true for communicating the “why” of our legacies. Start your “why” today. You may end up finding the conversations engaging and fun, and your family ties woven ever more closely together.

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