The season for gratitude, counting your blessings, and spreading holiday cheer officially kicks off with Thanksgiving Day. Across the country, families are coming together to celebrate–many of whom may not have all been together in person since before the COVID pandemic began.  For some families, the holidays are the only time of year that the entire extended family is able to be together in one place.

There’s an old saying from Mark Twain that you shouldn’t talk about politics or religion in polite company.  Generally, people prefer to stay away from uncomfortable conversations when they are gathered in groups outside of their immediate family.  While talking about your future death or disability isn’t anyone’s favorite topic of conversation,the holidays really present an excellent opportunity to have a serious conversation with your loved ones about your estate plan

We advise all of our estate planning clients to consider having an open discussion with their loved ones about their estate plan after they finish setting it up.  This isn’t an option for every family for a variety of reasons, but in cases when the client is open to having this discussion, it can save tremendous stress and time for the people involved when the time comes to carry out the plan.

Here are a few suggested discussion points for your conversation.

  • Provide your family with a quick overview of your estate plan documents. This is a good opportunity for you to review the documents yourself, too! If you don’t know or understand what your plan says or how it operates, it’s time to schedule a meeting.  This overview may include a discussion of the terms of your Last Will or Revocable Living Trust, as well as a review of your Durable Power of Attorney for finances and your Health Care Power of Attorney. Let your loved ones know who is the designated person to serve under each of these important documents.
  • Discuss your desires as it relates to future medical care.  If you are hospitalized and in a serious condition, and you aren’t able to make decisions for yourself, do your loved ones know what decisions you would want them to make? What treatments should they consent to on your behalf, and which ones should they decline?
  • Review your finances. You don’t have to tell anyone your net worth, but if you are able to provide a general overview of what financial institutions you use, that will allow your loved ones to know where to turn when they need to get involved in the future. It’s a good idea to provide a detailed list of all of your assets, including account numbers and financial information, but you don’t have to circulate that now. As long as your family knows where to find it when needed, that should be sufficient.
  • What are your wishes if you need long term care in the future? Do you have long term care insurance? Do you have a preferred lists of facilities or home care providers?
  • Make sure you show your family where your important documents are stored. Hopefully, that location includes the financial list mentioned above, a list of passwords//usernames for online accounts, as well as copies of things like legal documents and long term care insurance policies.
  • Don’t forget to ask your loved ones if they have any questions or concerns. Recognize that this conversation was probably not easy for them, either–so give them the time they may need to process and think of any questions they may have.

If you’re wondering how to start the conversation, the easiest thing to do is simply take the first step.  If your family is lucky enough not to  currently be in crisis mode, you might lead with “This isn’t something that I expect you to need to know anytime soon, but I wanted to take a minute to talk to you about my estate plan.”

Although this blog has focused on how a person should start a conversation with their loved ones, it’s also important to note that sometimes, these conversations have to begin from the other viewpoint. If your parents or older loved ones have not yet discussed their estate plan with you, use this holiday as an opportunity to begin the conversation.  The same suggested discussion points could apply, but you just need to re-frame them.  You could begin the conversation with, “COVID really demonstrated to me that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed for anyone of us.  Have you reviewed your estate plan recently? Are you willing to discuss it with me so that I can make sure I understand how it works?”

If you’re reading this and realizing that you have some work to do on your plan before you are ready to have this type of conversation with your loved ones, don’t worry.  Give our office a call, and we’d be happy to get some time on the calendar to help you put together a plan you can feel confident about explaining to your family.

Happy Holidays!