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Addressing a family secret in an estate plan

Every family has their secrets. Years ago, the keepers of these secrets may have passed away without anyone ever learning about the private information. Today, however, it is easier than ever for families to uncover hidden stories thanks to technology like direct-to-consumer genetic testing.

Because of this, any person with a family secret regarding parentage or the family tree may want to think carefully about how and if they want to address it in an estate plan.

What do you want to say?

Some people may not want to face the repercussions of revealing a family secret, but they may still want to share it. As such, using your estate plan to disclose private details about lineage, affairs or other sensitive events can seem tempting.

Keep in mind, though, that including any surprising and upsetting information in your will can cause problems. Your loved ones can be confused and angry; they may worry about how the new information will affect their lives and the administration of your estate. Without being able to ask you questions or talk to you about it, your loved ones can feel quite upset.

On the other hand, sharing in your will a family secret can be worth considering if doing so will provide critical answers, or if the information is more likely to create happiness rather than anger.

Addressing the fallout

If you decide to reveal information in your estate plan, provide some guidance to your loved ones.

For instance, if you have another child or donated reproductive material at some point, you should specifically identify which parties should receive your property. You are not required to leave property to a child, but if you just name your "children" as beneficiaries, the courts could rule that the previously unknown child, has the right to collect part of your estate. 

Providing direction in light of the new information can help your family adjust accordingly. It can also alleviate concerns over whether or how the secret might affect beneficiaries, heirs, and other designations.

It will also be crucial to ensure your estate planning documents are valid and updated to minimize the risk of someone contesting them.

Determining the legacy you want to leave

Whether your will is the right place to disclose a family secret is an intensely personal issue. However, you should know how your decision can affect others and how you can create a plan that supports your legacy.

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