Your estate plan is yours and yours alone. What you put in your will or the rules you designate for end-of-life care are only beholden to your discretion. Still, many times it pays to share your decisions and plans with the members of your family who will be affected by their implications.
This is especially true if you are married. Take the case of J. Howard Marshall II and Anna Nicole Smith. When Marshall passed away, Smith learned that he had left her out of his will completely. For the next 12 years, until her death, she battled in court for the inheritance she claimed he had meant for her.
This is an extreme example, both in situation and context, but think about it for a moment. Do you know your spouse's plans for the future? Does he or she know yours?
Estate planning is an intimidating, and potentially frightening, hurdle to cross. Many may not feel comfortable discussing their end-of-life plans, either because they don't want to think about them or they are afraid of offending a loved one.
For some it may be easy to schedule an appointment with an estate planning attorney and simply bring the spouse along. For others it will be much harder.
Think of it from the other side, though. At a moment when your family is grieving, do you really want to leave them with surprises? It's best to explain your decisions, give your reasoning and, if necessary, answer tough questions before you are unable to.
Unanswered questions have a tendency to stew and can lead to rifts or worse between family members.
A well-planned, thought-out estate plan can help you face these potential issues head-on. The willingness to be open about your decisions can save hard questions and hard feeling among family members when the time comes.