Key takeaways

  • Having family conversations about estate planning can provide insights that help inform your estate plan and keep communications open around future concerns or legacy opportunities.

  • A good first step is to outline how you want your assets to be handled in the event of your death or incapacity, to help you determine what types of estate planning documents you’ll need.

  • Consider your beneficiaries, and their needs and expectations, carefully. Discuss your decisions to help them understand your intentions and address any of their potential concerns.

The decisions involved with estate planning are deeply personal, and they have an impact that extends far beyond you as an individual. 

The level of detail you put into these decisions can go a long way in helping your loved ones during difficult times. That’s why it’s never too early to start talking about estate planning with your family.

The sooner you start a family conversation around estate planning, the easier that conversation gets over time.

As daunting as it may seem, the sooner you start a family conversation around estate planning, the easier that conversation gets over time. You gain valuable insight that helps inform your estate plan. These family discussions can also assist you in identifying and communicating concerns, needs, and legacy opportunities.

While the specifics of your estate plan are unique to your situation, there are a few key steps everyone can take to make the estate planning process – and accompanying conversations – go smoothly.


1. Answer a few important questions

Planning begins with knowing the answers to some important questions.

In the event of death:

  • Who would I want to receive my assets?
  • How would I want them to receive the assets, outright or in a protected trust?
  • Who would I trust to handle assets in my estate until they can be distributed to my heirs?
  • If there are minor children, who would I want and trust to be their guardians?

In the event of mental incapacity:

  • Who would I trust to manage my assets and financial affairs?
  • If a business is involved, do I have a plan of business succession and/or management succession?

In the event of medical incapacity:

  • Who would I want to make healthcare decisions on my behalf?
  • How do I feel about end-of-life decisions?


2. Start with basic estate planning documents

An estate plan generally involves four documents:

  • A will and/or trust
  • A healthcare directive
  • Leave a legacy with a charity you support?
  • Financial and healthcare powers of attorney
  • Life insurance

In most simple estate plans a will is the primary instrument you’ll need to get started. The purpose of a will is to ensure that your property and assets pass to your heirs in accordance with your wishes.

Without a will, a judge may determine who receives your property and assets, in accordance with state laws of intestacy, which might be contrary to your wishes. If you have minor children, your will can name who serves as their guardian in your absence; otherwise, a judge will determine guardianship. Having a valid will, then, is fundamental to your estate plan.

Property and assets passing by a will may be subject to probate, meaning that a judge will be involved in the process of administering the will in accordance to your stated wishes.

Estates consisting of greater complexity of wealth, family business interests, and/or unique family dynamics and needs should consider a trust. A trust may be a more appropriate instrument to address complex needs, target specific concerns, and achieve multiple objectives, such as:

A trust provides added flexibility with how to allocate your assets. You set aside funds, property or other assets and outline your wishes regarding their distribution. For example, you can create age provisions in your trust so that beneficiaries receive assets only when they reach a certain age. Trusts also allow you to avoid the lengthy and public probate process, which wills are subject to.

When a trust is used, a will serves the purpose of being a “pour-over will” with the trust serving as the main driver for achieving your estate planning objectives. The primary purpose of a “pour-over will,” then, would be to ensure that assets are “poured” into the trust at death that may not have been previously transferred into the trust prior to death.


3. Plan for where you are in life

When it comes to creating your estate plan, simply start where you are and add to the plan over time.

For example, a single young adult starting out can benefit from a healthcare directive and a power of attorney over assets and financial accounts in the event of medical incapacity. Your healthcare directive ensures that someone else (i.e., parents) can make medical decisions on your behalf if you are unable to make those decisions yourself. Adding a power of attorney for assets and financial accounts can ensure your bills and taxes are paid and your assets are managed if you are incapacitated.

When you start acquiring more assets, get married, or have a growing family, that’s when a will and/or a trust could come into play. When minor children are involved, having guardianship provisions in place is critical to their care and well-being if you are unable to be there for them.


4. Consider your beneficiaries

When it comes to choosing beneficiaries for your assets, different families have different values or beliefs that may influence these decisions. A primary beneficiary usually includes a spouse first, then children and other family members. A charity or cause you care about can also be selected as a beneficiary.

As you plan your estate, it’s important to consider the needs and expectations of all parties involved and how competing interests might be balanced. While an objective in creating an estate plan may be to treat everyone “equitably,” that does not mean everyone needs to be treated “equally.”

For example, if you run a family business, you might leave it to children who work in the business, while providing other assets to those who don’t. In this instance, everyone can expect to receive an equitable interest in the family inheritance but not necessarily an equal interest.

Likewise, additional support may be needed for a child who requires extra financial help while protecting the inheritance of others. Conversations with family members and an estate planning professional can help you ease tensions and make decisions that are in everyone’s best interest.


5. Be open and honest

At the end of the day, estate planning can be emotional. It brings up topics that many of us would rather not talk about at all, especially death and incapacity. But the sooner you start an open dialogue, the sooner you can address underlying concerns that loved ones might have.

If possible, bring everyone on board early on in your estate planning discussions to make sure they’re on the same page. By having some difficult conversations and doing a bit of work now, you can create a thoughtfully detailed estate plan that ensures your assets are managed according to your wishes. Creating an estate plan that achieves your objectives and addresses key family considerations is truly an act of love.

Learn about trust and estate services at U.S. Bank.

Related articles

How to handle the emotions involved in trust planning

Learn four ways to navigate this essential part of your overall estate plan.

Types of trusts: Choosing the right one for you

The world of trusts is not one-size-fits-all.


Start of disclosure content

Investment products and services are:
Not a deposit • Not FDIC insured • May lose value • Not bank guaranteed • Not insured by any federal government agency

U.S. Wealth Management – U.S. Bank is a marketing logo for U.S. Bank.

Start of disclosure content

U.S. Bank and its representatives do not provide tax or legal advice. Your tax and financial situation is unique. You should consult your tax and/or legal advisor for advice and information concerning your particular situation.

Equal Housing Lender. Deposit products are offered by U.S. Bank National Association. Member FDIC. Mortgage, Home Equity and Credit products are offered by U.S. Bank National Association. Loan approval is subject to credit approval and program guidelines. Not all loan programs are available in all states for all loan amounts. Interest rates and program terms are subject to change without notice.