December 15, 2023

It’s beginning to look a lot like Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and before we know it, we’ll be ringing in a New Year. These are prime holidays for family gatherings, which can offer opportunities to have important conversations. It’s easier to stick to topics like television shows and the weather but there’s one subject you should discuss, even though it might be uncomfortable: estate planning.

The thought of loved ones passing away is unpleasant. Unknown wishes and failure to plan, however, can lead to legal complexity and missed financial opportunities.  It’s ideal to discuss while your parents can make decisions for themselves and share their wishes.  Make sure their intentions are in writing and signed.  Also, be sure you ask about the location of key documents. A holiday gathering with your parents and siblings present might be a rare chance to make sure everyone is on the same page.

Estate plans are important regardless of your age. So, while you’re discussing your parents’ wishes, think about your own intentions. This is especially important if you have young children. 

Not sure how to broach these subjects with your family? Bring this article to share and start with these key questions.

1) Do you have a Will, Power of Attorney, or Trust?

A will is the main estate document but there are others that help ensure everything goes according to plan. The main purpose of a will is to make two designations, specifically who will:

  • Serve as the executor to administer the settlement of the estate
  • Receive property after deathThe recipients of one’s property will be after death
  • Care for minor children, if any

Without a will, state law and the courts will make these decisions and their decisions may not match your own. 

A durable power of attorney (DPOA) allows you to designate someone to act on your behalf in financial matters if you become physically or mentally unable to do so.

A trust is an optional—but potentially useful—separate legal entity is used to manage property and assets after their death. For more on this, check out our article “Everything You Need to Know About Trusts.”

Finally, make sure designated people (executor, POA, trustee) understand what will be expected of them.

2) Do you have a health care power of attorney (HCPA) or living will?

While the DPOA oversees financial matters, an HCPA allows someone to make decisions about medical care. They can authorize life support, hydration, and other health care decisions in the event of incapacitation. The HCPA should be very familiar with a person’s end of life wishes to be sure they are carried out. 

Another expression of a person’s end of life desires is a living will.  This document grants medical providers permission to take specific actions in the event there is no reasonable hope of recovery.

3) Where are your important papers stored?

Be sure loved ones know the location of estate documents, financial statements, and other important information.  Many financial advisors can provide a document to list everything in one place.

4) Who is your attorney, accountant and financial advisor?

Regardless of how simple or complicated the situation, seeking guidance from professionals including attorneys, accountants and financial advisors is a good idea.  If these relationships are already in place, be sure contact information is shared with key family members.  Otherwise, ask for referrals to professionals that will help record and execute your wishes. 

We hope this helps your family prepare for important financial matters that affect you and your family. If you—or your relatives—have questions, please feel free to reach out to us.