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. "We have clients, and there are certain individuals, that keep things closer to the vest, have a lot of pride and aren't as open with their family in sharing their wishes, estate information and investment/asset information," says Margaret Paddock, Twin Cities market leader for U.S. Bank's The Private Client Reserve. "It's an uncomfortable situation to be in, but it's also uncomfortable for the child who has to somewhat push themselves into the parent role. It can ruin a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner pretty quickly." Paddock knows this all too well. Some 15 years ago, she watched her 53-year-old mother struggle with early onset dementia. She would get lost driving to familiar places and forget to bathe or wash her clothes. Then she lost her job as a result and was even scammed out of her life savings by a caller who'd told her she won the Mexican lottery and only had to wire $30,000 to pay off the taxes on her "winnings." By the time Paddock and her family thought to address estate planning, she says it was far too late and – thanks to an early misdiagnosis – her mother was not able to make many of those estate planning decisions for herself.
In "Estate Planning Over Thanksgiving? Time to Talk Turkey," thestreet.com says that holiday estate planning is wise because with families all over the country or around the world, the holidays are a family's best bet at addressing important issues with everyone in the same room. If Mom and Dad are serious about having a discussion with their family about their estate planning intentions, they need to tell the family it's going to happen when everyone is there—it can't be sprung on folks after they give thanks.
If families or cultures are averse to raising such topics 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, especially during the holidays. It is a natural time for emotions to run high, but it is a great time to discuss items of seemingly insignificant value that may take on added significance for each potential heir.
These discussions are going to make some people uncomfortable. But even though you can't compel family members to participate against their will, you can learn valuable information about those family members through their reactions. For example, if a family member skips these meetings because of the emotional toll, he or she likely isn't the right person to take on power of attorney or to serve as executor of the will. In fact, the first meeting might be a great time to address that discomfort and consider bringing in an estate planning attorney to make recommendations. Some estate planning attorney may be willing to serve in such roles.
Although there isn't really a consensus on whether the holidays are the best time to set an estate plan in motion, it is an opportunity to address concerns and answer questions about the future. As the family grows and changes, these meetings can help with discussions and answer questions like why the parents want a child's name added to their bank account to help ward off fraud, the elements of one's life and finances that should be discussed if they become incapacitated, as well as the provisions being made for your family's future.
Consult a qualified estate planning attorney to help guide you and your family through the process.
Reference: thestreet.com (November 9, 2015) "Estate Planning Over Thanksgiving? Time to Talk Turkey"