A couple discussing their secrets as they create their estate plan.

Dangerous Secrets: The Importance of Coming Clean During Estate Planning

Estate planning is a personal process. Though people may speak of it as tedious and time-consuming, with the right estate planning attorney it is an intriguing self-exploration of your past and a satisfying master plan for your future. While the documents your lawyer drafts may sound dry, the material they contain is anything but. A well-designed estate plan touches on your work, your relationships and your philosophy. Because your estate planning attorney, like your doctor, must know the truth to guide you properly, the individual must be completely trustworthy as well as knowledgeable and skilled.

Most people have secrets, or at least private matters or beliefs they don’t share — even with some of their closest family members or friends. During estate planning, matters that may affect the validity of your will and the distribution of your assets must be considered by the attorney giving you legal counsel if your wishes are to be carried out. Because of the need for pertinent disclosures, it is crucial that you find an estate planning attorney not only well-credentialed and well-respected, but one with whom you feel comfortable and safe.  

Why We Keep Secrets

There are many reasons you may not have revealed events from your past or strongly held ideas — fear of contemplating your own mortality or potential incapacity, anxiety about the consequences of coming clean, not wanting to deal with the arguments or hurt feelings of others. You may back away from perceived financial complications, possible ridicule or humiliation, loss of reputation, or financial inconvenience. Nonetheless, the best way to protect yourself from complications down the road, and to save your loved ones from increased pain and difficulty after you die, is to be open with the professional legal representative you have chosen.

The Secrets We Keep

The following are some of the areas you should be prepared to discuss openly with your estate planning attorney.  

Relatives you Have Not Previously Revealed

While this may seem to be a rarity, a great many people have relatives the rest of the family does not know about, such as half-sisters or half-brothers, unacknowledged or secretly supported children, mothers who have been called “aunt,” fathers whose whereabouts are unknown or parents who are incarcerated.

At times, such kin have been away for so long that they are nearly forgotten when creating a will, but unless you discuss such relationships with your attorney these previously unknown relatives may haunt your family after your death, claiming inheritance rights. An estate planning lawyer with comprehensive, in-depth knowledge of state and federal law will know precisely what steps can be taken to protect you and your family. Don’t forget that in these days of advanced genetic testing, your DNA can be easily traced. 

Secret Liaisons

As we know from media reportage of celebrities’ and politicians’ lives, and the gossip that circulates even in the most seemingly sedate communities, adulterous relationships are very common. As a matter of fact, we periodically hear about long liaisons that coexist with enduring marriages. It is important to remember that an undisclosed, substantiated long-term relationship with a person of any gender may lead to a will contest if mutual property was owned or if you supported that person for many years. 

While a lover may not be able to inherit, even if your will is contested, imagine the negative impact the sudden appearance of such a person after your death will have on your family, financially (in terms of attorneys’ fees), as well as emotionally. Your estate planning attorney will help you to deal with any legal obligations you may have and help you to work out a plan to keep the situation from erupting.

Gender Identity Issues

It has turned out than a much larger number of people are transgender than our culture has realized so it is important to clarify whether you, or a member of your close family, are in transition or have already altered gender. Not revealing this fact may result in confusion in name and legal identity and interfere with the smooth execution of your will. Many documents used for identification will have to be changed, such as your driver’s license and social security card. Your wills and trusts attorney will help you to accomplish this.

Undisclosed Gifts or Debts

Your estate planning attorney should also be privy to financial information you may not have divulged — a large sum of money doled out confidentially to a needy relative or friend, or a sizeable gambling debt or business loss you have been embarrassed to reveal. Unless you give your attorney this information, your family may try to reclaim monies you intended as a gift, or be dismayed to find that your assets are considerably less than they thought. Do you really want complications to follow your passing? 

Your Final Wishes

More people than you may imagine have strong desires about their end-of-life care, funeral, memorial, disposal of remains, or donation of organs that they do not reveal even to those closest to them. This is usually to avoid conflict because, for example, their spouses or children do not share their religious or philosophical views. Not only do you want to make sure that you clarify your wishes to your attorney; you should share them with at least one close relative so that you will have your directions followed as peacefully as possible.

The importance of having an estate planning in whom you can confide cannot be overstated. It is impossible to collaborate with a professional assistant you keep in the dark.