We’re smack in the middle of the holiday season. Most people cite it as their favorite time of year, as they gather with loved ones to eat savory feasts, exchange gifts, and discuss estate planning.
What, your family doesn’t talk about estate planning at the holidays?
As odd as it might seem, at first, to talk about wills and trusts and estates at such a joyous time of year, it also makes a lot of sense. What better time to get clear on your thoughts than when everyone is together, to talk about it in person? And in late December, many people are already in planning mode as they await the start of a new year, with new goals in mind for themselves.
A friend tells me that she and her father have an annual chat at Christmastime, after everyone else has gone to bed. He reminds her of the location of important paperwork, makes sure she has an up-to-date listing of his assets and phone numbers for his lawyer, life insurance agent, and other important contacts. This has been happening for a few years now, and it started with my friend simply asking a question one night, after they had been chatting about a relative who had recently passed: “If anything were to happen to you or mom, how can I make sure that your wishes are followed?” She was surprised (and happy) to learn that her parents had already had an attorney prepare their Wills, advance directives, powers of attorney, and even paid in advance for their funerals. While you might think this conversation would not change much year-to-year, life events–a serious illness, the death of an executor, the birth of a grandchild, the sale of a property, a divorce in the family–sometimes resulted in the need for adjustments.
Talking about end-of-life provisions doesn’t need to be depressing. Think of it simply as a planning session. Many of us have, at one time or another, planned a vacation. There are always many components to consider, including travel arrangements, hotel accommodations, tickets to shows or amusement parks, and so much more. Careful planning ahead of time helps things to run smoothly and, if all goes well, allows the planners to enjoy themselves because the important decisions have been made ahead of time.
Estate planning is important for the same reasons: major decisions can be thought out ahead of time, before there is a crisis or emotions are in turmoil. Removing the burden of decision-making and taking it into your own hands avoids those situations—and can also help to prevent division and strife that can arise when no written guidance exists.
How you approach “The Conversation,” and whether you even want to have it, is up to you. If appropriate and desirable, you can ask your loved ones to weigh in with their thoughts to help you make decisions. Getting input and buy-in from your loved ones may give you peace of mind about their knowledge and acceptance of your wishes.
Or maybe you have already made your decisions and simply want to convey them to your loved ones in person so there are no questions or confusion about your wishes–and no sudden surprises, should something unexpected happen to you.
Or, as is often the case, perhaps you simply want to let them know that you have worked with an attorney to have the appropriate documents prepared but you do not want to share any specifics. This approach eliminates the possibility of potentially unwanted input or feedback concerning your wishes. Remember, they are YOUR wishes.
So, you’re sitting around the table with your kids, parents, life partner, niblings—whoever may be the people you want to talk to about estate planning. Depending on your family dynamics, you might have advised them ahead of time that you wanted to lead a family meeting on the topic and scheduled a certain time for it. Or maybe you just waited for the flow of conversation, and maybe the flow of after-dinner wine, to provide the right opportunity to introduce it. Now that you’ve got their attention, what are some of the things to discuss? Here are some ideas:
- Think big-picture to start. What do you want your legacy to be? Sharing your wish on this can lead to wonderful discussions about life achievements and passions; hearing what others see as your legacy (or as their own) might give all of you some new ideas on how to honor those legacies.
- With that in mind, how do you want your assets distributed? Do you prefer to leave everything to family, maybe dear friends? Or are there charities, religious institutions, or maybe alma maters for which an endowment could help further their causes?
- Who would you want to be in charge of making decisions on your behalf in the event of an emergency? Perhaps you want medical decisions and financial ones to be made by different people. Factors such as geographical location or areas of expertise can help you make those decisions.
- If minors are a consideration, who would you trust with their upbringing and/or financial oversight? Do you want to create a Trust to set aside funds specifically for their education?
These are some of the basic decision points, but certainly not the only ones. How down-in-the-weeds you decide to go is up to you: it’s not necessary to name a recipient for all your earthly belongings, but it can be a good idea to ask family members (perhaps in separate conversations) if there are any mementos or family heirlooms that mean a lot to them. I know of one woman who had all of her children and grandchildren give her a list of their top three items, and then she divvied things up accordingly and had her attorney specify these items and their recipients in her will.
So, if you’ve had that conversation—whether it’s at the holidays or at another time—contact us! The Matechik Law Firm specializes in estate planning. If you aren’t quite sure of some aspects, that’s okay: Attorney Matechik will talk them out with you and give you information to help you finalize decisions. Just be sure that the person who will ultimately sign the documents, not the children or the beneficiaries, contacts us: they would be the client.
Working with an estate attorney to document your wishes is one of the greatest gifts you can give your loved ones. We consider it an honor and a privilege to assist with that gift, and we will treat you and your legacy as family.