Our Solo Ager clients often ask, “Do I have to tell an heir that I’ve named them in my will?” For one reason or another, you may not be sure what to do. We will discus the pros and cons of telling your heirs they have been named in your will.
Do heirs have to be notified?
You are not legally required to notify your heirs when you make your will. However, once you die and your executor begins the probate process, your executor is required to notify your heirs that they are named in the will. In fact, the executor must send a copy of the will to the heirs. This means the heirs will also see who the other heirs are and what they will inherit.
Why not tell your heirs?
First of all, nothing is final. There is a good chance you might change your will again before you die. It would be pretty awkward to tell someone that they are inheriting something, and then you change your mind. You don’t want to cause drama between you and your heirs, or among the heirs themselves. Suppose you have two nieces between whom you were going to split your estate 50/50. Then they find out that you’ve changed it to 75/25. This will create an awkward situation among all of you, especially if the nieces are sisters.
You may find that once you tell your heirs what they will inherit, the heirs’ behavior changes. It could feel as if you are dangling their inheritance in front of them. Or maybe the ones inheriting the most won’t try as hard to win your favor or hang around as much, since they feel secure in what they plan to receive.
When to tell heirs
Generally, I don’t recommend telling your heirs what they will specifically inherit for the reasons described above. However, there are times when it makes sense to tell them. One reason is to help them plan for the future. Say you have a niece with school-aged children, and she is struggling to figure out how much to save up for college. You know that by the time her children are in college, you won’t be around. You can let your niece know that they will receive an inheritance to take care of those costs. This news could alter how aggressively she saves, which will make their lives easier now (not just when the inheritance comes). Just remember – once she relies on this information to set her financial plan, it will not look good if you change your mind!
If you are not planning on giving much to your heirs or you plan to give mostly to charity, then set expectations for your heirs. Let them know that you plan to give your wealth to charities and for them not to expect a large inheritance. Doing this can help avoid hard feelings after your death. If you have a relative who’s expecting to receive a lot and they find out after you pass that it’s going to charity, it may tarnish your legacy in their eyes. But if you set expectations before you pass, then the heirs will be prepared.
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