Here's why you need an Estate Plan - My Press Plus

October 19th-25th, 2020 is National Estate Planning Awareness Week, so if you’ve been thinking about creating an estate plan, but still haven’t checked it off your to-do list, now is the perfect time to get it done.

When it comes to putting off or refusing to create an estate plan, your mind can concoct all sorts of rationalizations: “I won’t care because I’ll be dead,” “I’m too young,” “That won’t happen to me,” or “My family will know what to do.”

But these thoughts all come from a mix of pride, denial, and above all, a lack of real education about estate planning and the consequences to your family of not planning. Once you understand exactly how planning is designed to work and what it protects against, you’ll realize there is no acceptable excuse for not having a plan.

Indeed, the first step in creating a proper plan is to thoroughly understand the potential consequences of going without one. In the event of your death or incapacity, not having a plan could be incredibly traumatic and costly for your family, who will be forced to deal with the mess you’ll have created by neglecting to plan.

While each situation and family are unique, in this multi-part series I’m going to discuss some of the things most likely to happen to your loved ones if you fail to create a plan. This is the first:

Your family will have to go to court
If you don’t have a plan, or if you only have a will (yes, even with a will), you’re forcing your family to go through probate upon your death. Probate is the legal process for settling your estate, and even if you have a will, it’s notoriously slow, costly, and public. But with no plan at all, probate can be a true nightmare for your loved ones.

Depending on the complexity of your estate, probate can take years, or even decades, to complete. And like most court proceedings, probate can be expensive. In fact, once all of your debts, taxes, and court fees have been paid, there might be little left for your loved ones to inherit. And for whatever is left, your family will have to pay hefty attorney’s fees and court costs in order to claim them.

Yet, the most burdensome part of probate is the frustration and anxiety it can cause your loved ones. In addition to grieving your death, planning your funeral, and contacting everyone you’re close with, your family will be stuck dealing with a crowded court system that can be challenging to navigate even in the best of circumstances. Plus, the entire affair is open to the public, which can make things all the more arduous for those you leave behind, especially if the wrong people take an interest in your family’s affairs.

That said, the expense and drama of the court system can be almost totally avoided with proper planning. Using a trust, for example, we can ensure that your assets pass directly to your family upon your death, without the need for any court intervention. As long as you have planned properly, just about everything can happen in the privacy of our office and on your family’s time.

No more excuses
Given the potentially dire consequences probate can cause for your family, you can’t afford to put off creating your estate plan any longer. Next week we’ll look at how the lack of an estate plan will cost you control of who inherits your assets as well as when and how the inheritance is received.  

 

 

What Estate Planning Documents Do Your Young Adult Children Need?

While estate planning is probably one of the last things your teenage kids are thinking about, when they turn 18, it should be one of their (and your) number-one priorities. Here’s why: At 18, they become legal adults in the eyes of the law, so you no longer have the authority to make decisions regarding their healthcare, nor will you have access to their financial accounts if something happens to them.

With you no longer in charge, your young adult would be extremely vulnerable in the event they become incapacitated by COVID-19 or another malady and lose their ability to make decisions about their own medical care. Seeing that putting a plan in place could literally save their lives, if your kids are already 18 or about to hit that milestone, it’s crucial that you discuss and have them sign the following documents.

Medical Power of Attorney
A medical power of attorney is an advance directive that allows your child to grant you (or someone else) the legal authority to make healthcare decisions on their behalf in the event they become incapacitated and are unable to make decisions for themselves.

For example, a medical power of attorney would allow you to make decisions about your child’s medical treatment if he or she is in a car accident or is hospitalized with COVID-19.

Without a medical power of attorney in place, if your child has a serious illness or injury that requires hospitalization and you need access to their medical records to make decisions about their treatment, you’d have to petition the court to become their legal guardian. While a parent is typically the court’s first choice for guardian, the guardianship process can be both slow and expensive.

And due to HIPAA laws, once your child becomes 18, no one—even parents—is legally authorized to access his or her medical records without prior written permission. But a properly drafted medical power of attorney will include a signed HIPAA authorization, so you can immediately access their medical records to make informed decisions about their healthcare.

Living Will
While a medical power of attorney allows you to make healthcare decisions on your child’s behalf during their incapacity, a living will is an advance directive that provides specific guidance about how your child’s medical decisions should be made, particularly at the end of life.

For example, a living will allows your child to let you know if and when they want life support removed should they ever require it. In addition to documenting how your child wants their medical care managed, a living will can also include instructions about who should be able to visit them in the hospital and even what kind of food they should be fed.

Durable Financial Power of Attorney
Should your child become incapacitated, you may also need the ability to access and manage their finances, and this requires your child to grant you durable financial power of attorney.

Durable financial power of attorney gives you the authority to manage their financial and legal matters, such as paying their tuition, applying for student loans, managing their bank accounts, and collecting government benefits. Without this document, you will have to petition the court for such authority.

Peace of Mind
As parents, it is normal to experience anxiety as your child individuates and becomes an adult, and with the pandemic still raging, these fears have undoubtedly intensified. While you can’t totally prevent your child from an unforeseen illness or injury, you can at least rest assured that if your child ever does need your help, you’ll have the legal authority to provide it. Contact us if you have any questions.

 

 

Family-Go-Bag-Comfort4-Survival-Kit—400-V2-AMP-min – Sustain Supply

In response to a series of wildfires that ravaged Southern California in 2017, I wrote a previous article explaining https://www.calilaw.com/saving-matters-12-must-items-pack-go-bag/ ready in the event a natural disaster or other emergency strikes your home. Go-bags originated with the US military, which requires its personnel to always keep one on-hand packed with the essential items needed to survive for at least three days following a disaster.When you have just minutes to evacuate, you won’t have time to think about what you should pack to survive the days—or weeks—to come, so the time to prepare for your family’s safety is now.

In 2020, we’re not only dealing with deadly wildfires again in California, we’re still in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has already killed more than 180,000 Americans and seems unlikely to disappear anytime soon.

In light of the increased dangers posed by the pandemic, I decided to update my previous go-bag article. Although most of the items you should have in your go-bag remain the same, here we’ll cover the supplies and documents you should pack to deal with COVID-19. Whether you are forced to temporarily relocate somewhere other than your home, require hospitalization, or are subject to quarantine, the pandemic comes with unique risks that call for additional preparation.

The go-bag revisited
Before we discuss the estate planning and other key documents you should include in your go bag, we need to mention some general supplies to include to help protect your family from contracting COVID-19. Along with the personal sanitary items listed in the previous article, you should add the following items:

  • Face masks and/or face coverings
  • Hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol
  • Lysol or other disinfectant sprays
  • Disinfecting wipes
  • Disposable gloves

Now, when it comes to your estate plan, even if you have all of the necessary planning documents in place and updated, they won’t do you any good if your loved ones don’t know about them or can’t quickly locate them during an emergency. Without immediate access to your plan, if you become seriously ill or injured, medical and financial decisions can be dangerously delayed or be made by someone other than the people you would want.

And the need for your plan to be easily accessible is particularly urgent during the pandemic. Due to the highly contagious nature of COVID, there’s a good chance your family members will not be allowed to accompany you if you are hospitalized or forced to quarantine. For these reasons, adding your estate plan and other important documents to your go-bag is a must.

While all of your estate planning documents should be included in your go-bag, be sure to include your up-to-date medical power of attorney and living will along with copies of your health insurance or Medicare card and a summary of your medical history. In your medical history, you’ll want to mention any chronic underlying medical conditions and illnesses, as well as list all prescriptions drugs, over-the-counter medications, and/or supplements you are currently taking—and don’t forget to list any known allergies.

Make sure your loved ones know about your go-bag, and where to find it. To make it as portable as possible, download your plan and other essential documents to a thumb drive you can carry in your go-bag and upload additional copies to the cloud.

 

Safeguard your belongings—and memories
While protecting your family’s health, safety, and well-being is the primary purpose of packing a go-bag, you should also take steps to prevent the financial devastation that can result from having your home and other property destroyed in a disaster. Obviously, having the appropriate levels of insurance coverage in place is your first task.
But to make sure the insurance companies fully reimburse you for what you stand to lose, you should also take video and photos of all your belongings. Such visual documentation can not only ensure you are able to replace your assets, but that your insurance claim is processed as quickly and smoothly as possible.

Finally, if you own your home, it should be titled in your living trust and your living trust MUST be identified as an “additional named insured” on your homeowner’s policy. Pull out your policy and check for that now. This often-overlooked detail can cause big problems in the event a claim must be made.

 

Estate Planning Essentials for Same-Sex Couples - WillWritten Will Writing

 

A case on the Supreme Court’s docket for October could have a major impact on the parental rights of same-gender couples seeking to adopt or foster children. In February, the high court agreed to hear Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, which deals with whether taxpayer-funded, faith-based foster care and adoption agencies have a Constitutional right to refuse child placement with LGBTQ families.

In March 2018, the City of Philadelphia learned that Catholic Social Services (CSS), an agency it contracted with to provide foster care services was refusing to license same-gender couples as foster parents. This was despite the fact the agency consented to abide by a city law prohibiting anti-LGBTQ discrimination.

The city told CSS it would not renew their contract unless they abided by its nondiscrimination requirements, but CSS refused to comply, and the city cancelled its contract. CSS then sued the city, claiming it had a First Amendment right to refuse licensing same-gender couples, since those couples were in violation of their religious beliefs.

Both a federal judge and the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the city, noting the city’s decision was based on a sincere commitment to nondiscrimination, not a targeted attack on religion. From there, CSS took the case to the Supreme Court.

Rampant discrimination at the state level
LGTBQ adoptions are particularly contentious right now at the state level. The Supreme Court has yet to rule on the issue of the parental rights of non-biological spouses in a same-gender marriage. Given this, many married same-gender couples looking to obtain full parental rights in every state turn to second-parent adoption, as the Supreme Court has previously ruled that the adoptive parental rights granted in one state must be respected in all states.

That said, 11 states currently permit state-licensed adoption agencies to refuse to grant an adoption, if doing so violates the agency’s religious beliefs. In other states, the law specifically forbids such discrimination, but as we’ve seen in the Fulton case, those laws are being challenged.

Estate planning offers another option

No matter how the Supreme Court rules, same-gender couples seeking parental rights have another option—estate planning. It may be surprising to hear, but it’s critically important for you to know that when used wisely, estate planning can provide a non-biological, same-gender parent with necessary and desired rights, even without formal adoption.

Starting with our Kids Protection Plan®, couples can name the non-biological parent as the child’s legal guardian, both for the short-term and the long-term, while confidentially excluding anyone the biological parent thinks may challenge their wishes. In this way, if the biological parent becomes incapacitated or dies, his or her wishes are clearly stated, so the court will keep the child in the non-biological parent’s care.

Beyond that, there are several other planning tools—living trusts, powers of attorney, and health care directives—we can use to grant the non-biological parent additional rights. We can also create “co-parenting agreements,” legally binding arrangements that stipulate exactly how the child will be raised, what responsibility each partner has toward the child, and what kind of rights would exist if the couple splits or gets divorced.

Secure parental rights—and your family’s future
Whether you are married, or in a domestic partnership, even with no children involved, it’s critically important you understand what will happen in the event one (or both) of you becomes incapacitated or when one (or both) of you dies. Proper planning can ensure your beloved is left with ease and grace, not a financial and legal nightmare that could have been avoided.

With proper guidance and support, you can ensure your partner or spouse will be protected and provided for in the event of your incapacity or when you die, while preventing your plan from being challenged in court by family members who might disagree with your relationship.

 

 

Arizona Family Court – Changes During the COVID-19 Pandemic

 

 

 

If you have a blended family and do not plan for what happens to your assets in the event of your incapacity or death, you are almost certainly guaranteeing hurt feelings, conflict, and maybe even a long, drawn out court battle.

 

So let’s start with clarity around what a blended family is and whether you have one. If you have stepchildren, or children from a prior marriage, or other people you consider “kin” who are not considered legal relatives in the eyes of the law, you’ve got a blended family.

 

Bottom line: if you have a blended family, you need an estate plan, and not just a will you created for yourself online, or a trust that isn’t specifically and intentionally designed to keep your family out of court and out of conflict. Period. End of story. Unless you are okay with setting your loved ones up for unnecessary heartache, confusion, and pain when something happens to you.

 

What Will the Law Do?

“Blended Families, once considered “non-traditional” families are swiftly becoming the norm. Currently 52% of married couples (or unmarried couples who live together) have a stepkin relationship of some kind, and 4 in 10 new marriages involve remarriage. So, clearly, this is no longer “non-traditional” but quite traditional, though our laws about what happens if you become incapacitated or die are still very much based on tradition.

 

Every state has different provisions for what happens when you become incapacitated or die, and the laws of California may not necessarily match your wishes.

 

For example, in California, all community property assets would go to your surviving spouse, and separate property assets would be distributed partially to a surviving spouse and partially to children, if living, in amounts depending on the number of surviving children.

 

This may not result in the outcome you want for your loved ones, especially if you have a blended family situation. If you have something different in mind as to how you would want things to go, there is good news. The state of California allows you to circumvent those laws, but only if you have an alternate plan in place BEFORE your incapacity or death.

 

Even within “traditional” families, I want to emphasize that having a full plan is the best way to provide for your loved ones. However, with “blended” families, carefully considered estate plans are often even more vital to avoid massive misunderstanding and conflict, and having your assets tied up in court instead of going to the people you want to receive them.

 

Disputes Between Spouse and Children from Previous Marriage

One of the most common problems that arises in a blended family is that the deceased’s children from a prior marriage and the surviving spouse end up in conflict. The courts are filled with these kinds of cases. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

 

When you’re considering all of this for the people you love, it’s important to have a trusted advisor who can help you look at the reality of what will happen if you become incapacitated or when you die. With the complexities of modern families, it’s far better to know and plan than to leave it up to the law or a court to decide. That way, not only do the people you love get the assets that you want them to receive, but you will also be saving them from years of potential legal conflict.

 

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

 

 

 

 

The pandemic is causing us to consider a lot of things that we may not have before, even if maybe we should have.

It brings to mind something a colleague of mine shared recently. One weekend last year, she left her small children with a babysitter and headed out to enjoy dinner at a restaurant with her husband. But as she sat there, a thought crept into her head and wouldn’t leave.

What would happen to her kids, she thought, if she and her husband got into a car accident on the way home?

And even though my colleague is a lawyer herself, and she had a will at home naming guardians for her kids, she didn’t have a definite and clear answer that provided the comfort she wanted. Her will was in a vault, and her named legal guardians lived on the other side of the country.  It was that thought that spurred her to take action.

Chances of COVID-19 Infection in the Family
If you are young and healthy, it might be hard to imagine that you won’t be there to care for your kids. But if the COVID-19 pandemic is showing us anything, it’s that even a healthy person can contract a serious illness that leaves them incapacitated and unable to care for their children.

If there is more than one adult in the house, that may alleviate some of your worry. While naming legal guardians for your kids usually feels especially urgent for a single parent, parents with partners aren’t off the hook. You should take precautions too, especially since there are high infection rates among people who live in the same household.

A professor at the University of Florida has found a more than 19% chance that someone else in the household of a person infected with COVID-19 will also contract the disease. Researchers estimate the average incubation time is about four days and could be infectious for up to two weeks. That means it’s not outside the realm of possibility that you and your partner could both contract the illness, possibly at the same time.

An Easy Way to Find Guardians for Your Children
Even if you never contract COVID-19, you are of course still human, and vulnerable to accidents and other dangers that could separate you from your kids—either temporarily or permanently.

If you haven’t already done so, there’s no better time to decide who would care for your children in the immediate term if something happens to you, even on a short-term basis. 

And, if you are having a difficult time deciding who to name as legal guardians for your children, we can even help you make the right decisions.

Officially answering the question of who will care for your kids if you can’t—even for a short time—is one of the best things you can do right now. It is a real, concrete way you can protect your kids during this scary time.

If you need help with the process, please do give us a call and we’ll be glad to walk you through it.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

If you’re a parent, you may feel even more guilty than usual.  If so, you are not alone. Currently, the burden is on you to both carry on with your work and manage your child’s full-time care and education. Two full-time jobs that you’re trying to do by yourself, likely without teachers or care providers to help you.

If you are like most parents, you were probably struggling with guilt even before the virus. You may not always make it to every award ceremony or recital, and you might not have as much time to play with your kids or help them with their homework as you’d like. Those feelings of guilt may now be compounded by all the additional responsibilities you’ve taken on in a short space of time.

Take a deep breath and let yourself off the hook. I’m sure you are doing the best you can, and your kids see it, and know it too, even when they are being ungrateful pains in the rear.

Keep reading for a few ideas about how to shift the guilt.

Name Legal Guardians
Let’s start with one thing that is fully within your control, can help to alleviate feelings that you are not doing enough, and that you can get handled easily — name legal guardians for your kids, so only the people you choose will take care of them if anything happens to you.

Legally documenting your choices for who you want to take care of your kids if you can’t is a great first step to getting legal planning in place for the people you love. (Yes, I said “choices” because you want to name at least two alternates after your first choice.) And doing so can provide you with a lot of relief, if you have not yet taken care of this for your kids.

Quality Time Doing…Nothing
While you’re probably already spending a significant amount of time with your kids, you may be too tired or overwhelmed to plan big activities, or the things you used to do for “quality time” may not be available.

So, what’s a parent to do?

Nothing.

Yes, you read that right, nothing.

If you can take 15 minutes or so out of your day and do nothing with your child, it could be the best 15 minutes you spend with them, and with yourself, all day.

It’s truly one of the best gifts you can give to your kids, and the best part is you don’t have to do anything. Mostly, our kids really just want to know we are there, and will give them our full attention, without screens, even if they aren’t paying attention to us.

Talk About It
If you’re on an emotional roller-coaster right now, your kids are probably having some similar struggles. This is an opportunity to connect with them, and a good time to show them a little vulnerability of your own. Remember how important sharing words of love and comfort can be, both to them and to you.

If you have been feeling alone and need support, you can also reach outside of your family for help. Sometimes venting to your friends is enough, and chances are they’ll be able to relate! But if you are not getting the support you need, there are professionals who will communicate via phone and even text message. You can always reach out to us for a referral but you can also find local therapists and phone, video, and online therapists through Psychology Today’s directory.

The point is, you are NOT alone, and you don’t have to feel alone. There are resources available and if we can be of support to you in any way, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

Right now, huge numbers of people are coming face to face with their own mortality, and realizing they need to plan for the worst. This goes not just for those in the “senior” category, but for all of us, no matter our age. We are facing the reality of our mortality, and many of us are doing it courageously by taking this as an opportunity to learn what we need to do for the people we love.

Recently I heard a tragic story from a colleague whose client lost her fiancé to COVID-19. Because she wasn’t listed on her fiancé’s health directive and HIPAA waiver, she could not get anyone to update her on his condition once he entered the hospital.

Naturally, she didn’t give up trying, and eventually someone told her that he wasn’t in the ICU anymore. She was enormously relieved, but when she hadn’t heard anything else by the next day, she called again for news. Finally, after being transferred several times, she learned that the reason her fiancé wasn’t in the ICU was because he was in the morgue. He’d passed away the day before, and no one had told her. Heartbreaking.

Nobody expects something like this to happen, especially to people who are healthy and making plans for their own futures. But sometimes the worst does happen, and if it does, you want the people you love to be able to grieve properly, without leaving them with a mess of confusion on top of it all.

Now, think about your own situation. What will happen to your loved ones, and the assets you’ll leave behind, if you become sick or die?

Without a doubt, you’d want to ensure certain people in your life are informed if you have to go to the hospital and kept up to date on your condition while you are there. You’d also probably want to avoid them having to go through a drawn-out court process to handle your estate after your death or save them from the fate of not being able to access your assets if you are hospitalized. This article is all about you having the tools you need to make sure everything is in place to do the right thing for the people you love, just in case something happens to you.

Covering the Bases
First, you need to have a worst-case scenario conversation with your family. A lot of people try to avoid conversations about death, but the fact is, we will all die. It’s better to face that with those we love so that when the time comes, we will be as ready as we can be, and so will they.

Create an Asset Inventory
This is something you can get started on right now, by yourself, without the help of a lawyer. It is a great resource to leave for your loved ones so they know where to find everything that is important to you, and will be important to them, if something happens to you.

First, get out your calendar and schedule an appointment with yourself. Set aside an hour or so to put all your asset information in one place (we use a spreadsheet when we do this for clients): real estate, bank accounts, retirement accounts, life insurance, stocks, bonds, business interests, etc.

Update Your Health Care Directive
This is extremely important if you want your loved ones to avoid the tragic situation my colleague’s client found herself in. Do NOT delay reviewing and updating these documents.

Your Health Care Directive should have three parts:

  • A Living Will/ Medical Directive, which states how you want decisions to be made for you.
  • A Medical Power of Attorney, which states who should make these decisions if you can’t make them yourself.
  • A HIPAA Release that allows medical professionals to disclose information to your Medical Power of Attorney/Agent.

Name Legal Guardians for Your Kids
A very important thing for all parents of minor children to do is name legal guardians for your children. Think about what would happen to them right now if something were to happen to you, for both the long term and the immediate future. This is the single most important thing parents of minor children should do because it would have the greatest impact on – or leave the biggest hole for – our minor children if something happens to us.

Going Beyond Just the Basics
The goal in setting up an estate plan is, ultimately, to keep your loved ones out of court and out of conflict. To do that, you must make the right decisions during the planning process, retitle assets so they are protected by your plan, and ensure your plan stays up to date for the rest of your life.

Estate planning is all about merging your family dynamics, assets (both material and non-material), and the law into a cohesive plan which accomplishes all that you really want to do for the people you love.

If you are ready to face your mortality courageously and want to ensure your family is protected and provided for no matter what, don’t wait. Get the help of a professional (someone who’s providing virtual planning sessions) and get started now.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

If your child requires or is likely to require governmental assistance to meet their basic needs, do not leave money directly to your child. Instead, establish a Special Needs Trust.

A trust that is not designed with your child’s special needs in mind will probably render your child ineligible for essential benefits. A Special Needs Trust is designed to manage resources while maintaining the individual’s eligibility for government benefits. Planning is important because many beneficiaries as adults will rely on government benefits for support. If the disabled person has assets in their own name, they might lose eligibility.

Medicaid, and other public benefits programs, will not pay for everything your child might need. A Special Needs Trust can pay for medical and dental expenses, annual independent check-ups, necessary or desirable equipment (such as a specially equipped van), training and education, insurance, transportation, and special foods.

Unfortunately, some Special Needs Trusts are unnecessarily restrictive and generic. Many trusts are not customized to the particular child’s needs. Thus, the child fails to receive the support and benefits that the parent provided when they were alive. For example, children who are high functioning and active in their communities can benefit from a Special Needs Trust that is carefully tailored to provide adequate resources to support their social lives.

Does your child have significant medical concerns? Should the trust allow for birthday gifts for other family members? What about travel expenses to visit loved ones? Do you have a preferred living arrangement for your child? Your child’s special needs trust should address all these issues and more.

Another mistake attorneys with special knowledge in this area often see is a “pay-back” provision in the trust rather than allowing the remainder of the trust to go to others upon the death of the child with special needs. If a “pay-back” provision is included unnecessarily, Medicaid will receive the remainder (up to the amount of benefits provided) in the trust upon the death of the beneficiary. These “pay-back” provisions, however, are necessary in certain types of special needs trusts. An attorney who knows the difference can save your family a small fortune.

A Special Needs Trust will help you avoid one of the most common mistakes parents make. Although many people with disabilities rely on SSI, Medicaid, or other needs-based government benefits, you may have been advised to disinherit your child with disabilities—the child who needs your help the most—to protect that child’s public benefits. These benefits, however, rarely provide more than subsistence, and this “solution” does not allow you to help your child after you are incapacitated or gone.

Disinheriting your child with special needs might be a temporary solution if your other children are financially secure and have money to spare. But permanently disinheriting your child with special needs could be a huge mistake! It is not a solution that will protect your child after you and your spouse are gone. The money can be lost in a lawsuit, divorce, liability claim, or adverse judgment against your other children. For example, what if your child with the money divorces? His or her spouse may be entitled to half of it and will likely not care for your child with special needs. What if your child with the money dies or becomes incapacitated while your child with special needs is still living?

These are just some of the concerns parents of special needs children need to navigate. The bottom line is to get a special needs trust in place with the help of an advisor who understands the unique issues inherent with special needs situations.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

As we head into the thick of the holiday season, you’re likely spending more time than usual surrounded by family and friends.

The holidays offer an opportunity to visit with loved ones you rarely see and get caught up on what’s been happening in everyone’s life. And though it might not seem like it, the holidays can also be a good time to discuss estate planning. In fact, with everyone you love—from the youngest to the oldest—gathered under one roof, the holidays provide the ideal opportunity to talk about planning.

That said, asking your uncle about his end-of-life wishes while he’s watching the football game probably isn’t the best way to get the conversation started. In order to make the discussion as productive as possible, consider the following tips.

1. Set aside a time and place to talk
Trying to discuss estate planning in an impromptu fashion over the dinner table or while opening Christmas gifts will most likely not be very productive. Your best bet is to schedule a time separate from the festivities, when you can all focus and talk without distractions or interruptions.

It’s also a good idea to be upfront with your family about the meeting’s purpose, so no one is taken by surprise, and are more prepared for the talk. Choose a setting that’s comfortable, quiet, and private. The more relaxed people are, the more likely they’ll be comfortable sharing about sensitive topics.

2. Create an agenda, and set a start and stop time

To ensure you can cover every subject you want to address, create a list of the most important points you want to cover—and do your best to stick to them. You should encourage open conversation but having a basic agenda of the items you want to address can help ensure you don’t forget anything.

Along those same lines, set a start and stop time for the conversation. This will help you keep the discussion on track and avoid having the conversation veer too far away from the main points you want to discuss. If anything significant comes up that you hadn’t planned on, you can always continue the discussion later.

Keep in mind that the goal is to simply get the planning conversation started, not work out all the specific details or dollar amounts.

3. Explain why planning is important
From the start, assure everyone that the conversation isn’t about prying into anyone’s finances, health, or personal relationships. Instead, it’s about providing for the family’s future security and wellbeing no matter what happens. It’s about ensuring that everyone’s wishes are clearly understood and honored, not about finding out how much money someone stands to inherit.

While some relatives might be reluctant to open up, being surrounded by the loved ones who will ultimately benefit from planning can make people more willing to discuss these sensitive subjects.

Talking about these issues is also a crucial way to avoid unnecessary conflict and expense down the road. When family members don’t clearly understand the rationale behind one another’s planning choices, I’ve seen it breed conflict, resentment, and costly legal battles.

4. Discuss your experience with planning
If you’ve already set up your plan, one way to get the discussion going is to explain the planning vehicles you have in place and why you chose them. Mention any specific questions or concerns you initially had about planning and how you addressed them. If you have loved ones who’ve yet to do any planning and have doubts about its usefulness, discuss any concerns they have in a sympathetic and supportive manner.

For the love of your family
Though death and incapacity can be awkward topics to discuss, talking about how to properly plan for such events can actually bring your family closer together this holiday season. In fact, our clients consistently share that after going through our estate planning process they feel more connected to the people they love the most. And they also feel clearer about the lives they want to live during the short time we have here on earth. 

When done right, planning can put your life and relationships into a much clearer focus and offer peace of mind knowing that the people you love most will be protected and provided for no matter what.

Most importantly this holiday season, enjoy being in the moment and strengthening your bonds with the important people in your life.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,