Making it Clear and Keeping the Peace
But what if your plans are more like a banana split? Say you decide to leave the summer retreat to just one of the kids - maybe the one who uses it the most or has done the most work on it - or you want one of them to get your great-grandfather's prized clock - because she's the family historian and will most appreciate the heirloom - or you want to leave more, maybe much more, to one of the kids because of all the help he's given you or because of all the financial help you've already given the other kids - and maybe you want just the youngest of the kids to have charge of settling everything because she's the most diplomatic. I could go on and on, but I think you can see how these decisions could lead to a full-fledged food fight. Not a pretty sight, but unfortunately one I've seen quite a few times.
OK, what to do? Sure, you could gather all the kids together around the Thanksgiving turkey and lay out the plan while you're still around. It might be your last holiday gathering, but you'd have the satisfaction of total transparency to compensate for the lack of ongoing communication with them.
Or, you could say nothing at all at any point, and let the chips fall where they may. Some of the less-well-remembered may take your name in vain a few times, particularly because they won't understand your motives, but you won't be around to be offended, and it's yours to do with as you please anyhow, right?
But you could also write up your thinking in a carefully reasoned letter that explains the whole plan as clearly as you can state it. No advance warning, but no leaving them in the dark either. Look, under these circumstances they're not all going to be happy or agree with your decisions no matter what you do or say, but why let them create a narrative for you that may be totally off-base.
Plus, waiting to tell your story until the time comes keeps your options open - and your thinking may change. I see that happen all the time. The black sheep may turn out to be the prodigal daughter. The child who lives closest to you may be the one who pays the least attention when you really need help. So why burn any bridges now, when you may want or need those bridges later. And if you've told them all what you plan to do, it's pretty awkward - and likely even more divisive - when you later tell them you've changed your mind.