Should My Estate Plan Language be Direct?

Estate planning language
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The language used in estate planning can be more vague for some requests.

How something is said is often just as important as what is said.

People communicate just as much through body language and tone of voice as they do with their words.

Although these sensory details are often missing in estate planning documents, the words used can convey essential differences.

According to a recent Kiplinger article titled “I Wish I May, I Wish I Might: Estate Planning’s Gentle Nudge, there are times when people need to communicate both clear directions and thoughtful suggestions.

Estate planning language does not always need to be direct.
Language in an estate plan can include suggestions rather than simply directions.

When something must be followed precisely by the executor or administrator, the language must be precise.

Hopes, wishes, and desires for loved ones utilize precatory language and are non-binding.

Although it seems counterintuitive to have non-binding wishes in a trust or last will and testament, this language can sometimes be helpful.

When is such precatory language commonly used?

When suggesting beneficiaries should work with your financial advisor or estate planning attorney.

Although it can be wise for your heirs to talk with your estate planning attorney and financial advisor about their inheritance and the most constructive way to manage it, you may not want to require it.

Your children may have financial advisors and estate planning attorneys who know their circumstances and goals well.

Using precatory language allows you to provide a recommendation and the reasons behind the recommendation so your heirs can make responsible decisions.

It can also relieve some stress in finding a trustworthy professional to answer questions or help should your heirs not have their advisors or attorneys.

When you want co-trustees to collaborate in making decisions.

If you name multiple people as trustees, you can request for them to have discussions before making decisions.

For example, you may choose to leave your three children the duties of co-trustees.

Although they may need to make decisions without it being unanimous, you may encourage them to all express their wishes and concerns before actions are taken.

A gentle reminder to them can help preempt any sibling rivalries from resurfacing.

When you would like to encourage your trustee to consider certain guideposts when making distribution decisions.

Terms of a trust can often have clearly defined structures and rules regarding distributions to heirs.

Other times, more freedom is granted to trustees when determining what is best for beneficiaries based on their fiduciary duties.

If you want to allow for this freedom but still provide some helpful guidance, you can use precatory language to communicate these thoughts to your trustee.

You can share with your trustee how you would have chosen to support the needs of loved ones were you yet alive.

For example, you can prioritize educational pursuits, paying for a “first” wedding, or health needs.

Using such language provides support rather than excessive restrictions for the trustee.

Work with an experienced estate planning attorney to ensure the language of your documents is clear and definitive where it needs to be while allowing for recommendations to be provided.

Reference: Kiplinger (March 23, 2023) “I Wish I May, I Wish I Might: Estate Planning’s Gentle Nudge

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