While some people may be skeptical about having serious conversations with family members during holiday celebrations, holiday gatherings may be the perfect time to share thoughts, feelings, and helpful information about the future for the following reasons:
- Although some relatives may live at a distance from others, now almost everyone is in the same place and, hopefully, feeling warm and relaxed.
- Because for many families, such gatherings are not frequent, the closeness lends itself to discussing special issues not typically addressed in regular texts or phone calls.
- The ceremonial aspect of the holidays, however informal, evokes memories and reminiscences of milestones and turning points (e.g.births, weddings, coming of age, relocations, deaths) which can smoothly lead into discussions of future plans.
- While discussions of some topics must be avoided because they tend to lead to tension or arguments (e.g. politics, personal life choices, relationships that are not universally approved by other family members), conversations around how to ensure financial security may well be meaningful and reassuring.
Moreover, the presence of multiple generations under one roof allows an inclusive family discussion, giving each person space to express their wishes and concerns.
Basic Areas To Be Addressed
When talking about estate planning with your family, it’s wise to cover several key areas to ensure a comprehensive approach. Essential topics include:
Wills and Why All Every Adult in the Room Should Have One
A will is the cornerstone of any estate plan, stating your wishes regarding distribution of your assets when you die, naming a personal representative (executor) to administer your estate, and designating a guardian for your minor children. Therefore, clarifying its components can go a long way to preventing future disputes.
The Need for Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy
Even in families with contradictory views most can agree that the future is unknowable and full of unforeseen events. In the event of a medical emergency, accident or sudden illness, even a young, robust family member may become incapacitated. Establishing a power of attorney will give a trusted individual the authority to tend to legal, financial, and personal matters while that person is unable to communicate or take action.
A health care proxy, on the other hand, will designate someone reliable to make medical decisions on behalf of the impaired person, regarding, for example, the need for surgery or the administration of a risky but perhaps lifesaving treatment.
Trusts for Convenience and Protection
Trusts can serve a broad range of purposes, including:
- Facilitating asset distribution and business succession
- Protecting assets from excessive taxation, divorce, and creditors
- Providing for a special needs child
- Caring for a pet if the owner should predecease them
Recordkeeping and Digital Assets
Many older family members may have witnessed enormous changes in inheritance laws and property considerations during their lifetimes. Everyone must remember to include online accounts and digital assets when establishing a modern estate plan.
How To Address the Topic of Estate Planning During the Holidays
Rather than inserting estate planning as a formal topic, it’s best to wait for a moment that easily segues into the desired discussion, such as a life-altering event in the family — the birth of a cousin’s child, the death of a family friend, the cost of a family wedding, a serious car accident reported in the news.
The best approach to a sensitive topic like this is a casual one, beginning with a comment like:
“…it got me thinking about the need to have a power of attorney” or “I’m considering setting up a trust for the baby.” Remember, this conversation should not be anxiety-producing. Rather, it should be reassuring, involving as it does, ways to make family finances more secure in challenging situations.
Handled correctly, talking to your family about estate planning during the holidays may be far easier and more comfortable than you expect. To make the conversation inclusive, let everyone have a chance to speak and have their opinions respected. To make the discussion more meaningful and informative, consult with one of our accomplished attorneys. We will address your concerns, answer your questions, and open an ongoing dialogue to help you and your family through the estate planning process.