This is my favorite time of the year, personally and professionally. The change in seasons brings crisp air and anticipation of gatherings with family and friends. While each new day brings something to be grateful for, many people are increasingly reflective around the holidays. Some are moving through the death of a loved one, a recent hospitalization, an unexpected diagnosis, decreased memory or the loss of a job. Others are eagerly waiting to meet the new grandchild, reunite with their children who have flown across the country, or to celebrate a wedding or a promotion. Just this week I met with two families who were facing significant difficulties, yet they were still focused on being grateful and doing what was needed to refine their estate plan. I am honored to observe and experience these highs and lows with my clients every day and very thankful that they trust me with their personal peaks and valleys.
You may think that these items are too confidential to discuss with your attorney, but these topics are integral to a good estate plan. Solid estate planning takes time and cannot be produced in 30 minutes using an online program. The process of creating an estate plan that is right for you requires a review of your hard-earned and saved assets, how you want them to be spent during your lifetime, and who you want them to go to when you die, but there is more to it than that. Here are some thought starters:
- Are any of your beneficiaries on public benefits, struggling with addiction, experiencing marital issues, or easily influenced?
- What is your health condition?
- Did your parents or siblings spend time in a nursing home?
- What is your philosophy on paying for long-term care at home or in a nursing home?
- Have you done your due diligence on payment options for long-term care and not just assumed that you cannot afford it?
- What are the consequences of lifetime giving? Will it disqualify you from public benefits?
- Is there a tax advantage for lifetime or testamentary gifts to a charity?
Conversations with your family and friends are also key. Planning ahead and sharing your philosophies before a crisis will result in the best outcome in an emergency situation. It allows you to assess the decision-making process of the person you would choose to be your agent under a financial or health care power of attorney. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Who is the person (friend or family) I call when I have a financial question?
- Who has the time to handle my finances for me if I cannot? Do I trust that person?
- If I had a health emergency, who do I know and trust who is calm, able to be an advocate for me and not queasy entering a hospital?
- Is the possible health care agent local and available?
- Is the person I am considering for my agent unduly influenced by their spouse or significant other?
- My beneficiaries have differing views and I suspect may not all get along when I die. Is the person I have in mind as the executor able to handle all those dynamics, or would a professional executor like my local bank be a better option?
Take the time to pause, think and have the conversations with your loved ones during this holiday season. Yes, it is a busy time, but we do not know what tomorrow holds. Plan ahead so that your wishes are met. You will be grateful that you did.