With Thanksgiving and the winter holidays coming up, there are at least two prime opportunities to get families all under one roof and talking. Estate planning should be part of that conversation.
No, it probably won't be comfortable, but estate planning rarely is.
Opening up to your family about how you want to be treated in your last days or how you want your estate to be divided may be difficult. Assuredly, it's an uncomfortable situation to be in. Additionally, it's also uncomfortable for the child who has to somewhat push themselves into the parent role and ask mom and dad what their wishes are. Talk about a way to ruin a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner pretty quickly!
I talk to clients who are going home for the holidays to visit their parents with Alzheimer's or dementia. They tell me that they saw some of the warning signs years ago, such as, getting lost driving to familiar places and forgetting to bathe or wash clothes. It's important to talk about what your parent's wishes are while it's not too late so that the parent can make many of those estate planning decisions for themselves.
This is why I am a strong proponent of holiday estate planning. With families scattered across the country or around the world, the holidays are typically a family's best shot at addressing important issues with everybody in the same room. Families need to make sure that they treat it like a family meeting, ban cell phones from the room, get someone to watch the kids, make sure any stragglers are included through a conference call or video conferencing and, of course, that everyone is in on the plan.
The key to it, quite frankly, is not having the element of surprise. If Mom and Dad are serious about having a discussion with their family about their estate planning intentions, they have to let the family members know that this is going to occur while the family is together. It can't be the family just sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner and an estate planning issue comes up.
If your family would rather keep spirits light. Estate planning should be discussed sooner rather than later to avoid an unpleasant situation. Even if an estate plan is already in place, it should be updated and family members should have at least a vague idea of how assets are distributed. Even if this discussion doesn't take place around the holidays, there should be an annual meeting to let family members know where an estate plan stands.
When combing through assets, remember that no item is too small for discussion. The holiday season ratchets up the sentiment, which may make it a great time to discuss with family members what items of seemingly insignificant value take on added significance for each potential heir.
If you want specific individuals to receive certain sentimental items, be sure to list them in your will or a separate document. Sometimes the biggest fights are over items of little economic value. With everyone together during the holidays, you can discuss what sentimental items each person values most. This can give you insight about priorities for estate planning purposes while keeping the conversation focused on positive memories.
If you would like to schedule an appointment with Sallen Law, LLC to discuss the importance of estate planning and annual family meetings, please click on this link. Located in Merion Station, PA, Sallen Law assists clients with estate planning matters throughout the Philadelphia Main Line area including but not limited to Lower Merion Township, Montgomery County, Bucks County, Delaware County, and Chester County. Attorney Rebecca Sallen is also licensed to practice in the state of NJ and serves Burlington County, Gloucester County, Camden County.