Estate Planning And The Holidays: A Checklist For Your Family
While enjoying time with your family this holiday season, you might want to consider broaching the subject of your estate plan. Since this may be one of the few times when you are around a larger group of loved ones and you have a chance to take stock of your current family situation, estate planning and the holidays can go together. You can give your family the most important gift of all this holiday season: the gift of peace of mind. Telling your loved ones about your wishes and the plans you have made can prevent misunderstandings and unburden your loved ones from having to make difficult decisions. Consider the following checklist for your family as you begin to broach the subject of estate planning during the holidays.
A large part of many estate plans is what will happen to a person’s property after they pass away. Many people draft a Last Will and Testament (will) to provide clear instructions regarding the distribution of their property after their death. As the New York State Bar Association explains, the laws of intestacy will apply to how a person’s assets are distributed without a properly executed will. These are the default laws that favor a person’s nearest relatives to inherit their property after their death. In order to avoid having your property distributed to family members against your wishes according to intestate laws, you may want to consider visiting with an estate planning attorney to ensure your property is passed on to the loved ones you choose after your death.
Another option to distribute property following your death is with the creation of a trust. The New York City Bar Association defines a trust as a financial plan that protects and manages a person’s property while they are alive. After a person’s death, a trust can prevent the need for court proceedings (probate). A person can place various types of property in a trust, control the property during their lifetime, and leave clear instructions on how the property should be managed after their passing.
During this holiday time, consider carefully all of your property (real estate, stocks, bonds, cash, cryptocurrency, valuable possessions, collectibles and more) and who you would want to receive this property after your death.
Another important consideration for estate planning is what will happen to your financial accounts after you pass away. If another person is named as a joint tenant with rights of survivorship on the account, they will be able to access and control the funds in the account. However, if only one person is on the account, the account owner can often designate a beneficiary who will receive the funds upon their death by completing a beneficiary designation form that outlines this information.
A person can designate various types of accounts and benefits through beneficiary designations, including:
Life insurance policies
Oftentimes, a trust can be named as the beneficiary of such accounts, which can be a useful way of providing for minor beneficiaries.
Power of Attorney – Medical Decisions
A thorough estate plan will not only address what happens after a person’s death but also what happens in case of a medical crisis. Individuals have the right to create a living will that outlines end-of-life treatment they want and do not want. This document states whether life-saving medical measures should be taken to prolong a person’s life. A person can also create a healthcare proxy that names a trusted person to make medical decisions on their behalf if they are unable to make these decisions themselves. Consider who you would want to make these important medical decisions if you suffer an illness or accident that leaves you unable to make these decisions for yourself.
Power of Attorney – Financial Decisions
A person’s estate plan can also create safeguards in the event they become incapacitated and can no longer effectively make decisions regarding their personal and financial affairs. A durable power of attorney can help manage the financial and legal details of a person’s life. Consider who you would want to make these important financial decisions if you suffer an illness or accident that leaves you unable to make these decisions for yourself.
Many people will ultimately need to turn to a long-term care facility for care at the end of their life, or if they suffer an illness or injury. As such, they may need to financially prepare for this possibility. An experienced estate planning attorney can discuss Medicaid eligibility, long-term care insurance, and other strategies that can effectively plan for long-term care.
When to Make Changes in Your Estate Plan
While estate planning and the holidays can sometimes go hand in hand, there are other times when an update to an estate plan may be necessary, such as in the case of:
A new marriage
Birth or adoption of a child
Separation from a spouse
Death of a beneficiary or fiduciary
Change in relationship to beneficiaries or fiduciaries
A significant change in the value or character of assets
Acquisition of real property
Purchase or sale of a business
Relocation to another state
A new need to care for a loved one with special needs
A change in tax laws that might impact the estate plan
The Jennifer V. Abelaj Law Firm can review your existing estate plan and explain when it might be necessary to update your plan.
Practical Tips for Mixing Estate Planning and the Holidays
If you are planning to bring up your estate plan this holiday season, here are some practical tips for achieving the outcome you want:
Talk About It
The holidays should not be the only time your family hears about your plans and wishes. Make the conversation an ongoing one so that they are never left in the dark. Also, plan ahead of time and let your loved ones know that you want to set aside some time during your family visit for this important conversation. Consider whether or not it would be more appropriate to have the conversation before the festivities or after your holiday events as a family.
Approach the Subject with Sensitivity
It can be difficult for adult children to see their parents age or not be as active as they once were. It can also be difficult for people to confront their mortality and talk about death. Additionally, many people feel uncomfortable talking about money.
For these reasons, it is important to approach the subject with sensitivity and to be prepared for an emotional response. The person should focus on wanting to provide peace of mind and ensure their healthcare values are known.
Ask for Help from a Professional
Having a professional available for the conversation can be a helpful buffer. A professional can discuss the issues matter-of-factly and provide an objective perspective. He or she can also explain the purpose of an estate plan and the benefits of being proactive about creating one at any age. You may have the ability to consult with an estate planning attorney during the holidays by phone or even a video call to ensure that all of your loved ones have an opportunity to understand your wishes and even ask questions.
End on a Positive Note
Talking about your estate plan need not be a morbid or negative experience. Emphasize your desire to have your wishes known and respected so your loved ones have peace of mind.
Contact an Estate Planning Attorney to Learn More
The holidays are a time for families to get together and enjoy each other’s company. However, these types of events also present a perfect opportunity to discuss with family your wishes regarding your estate plan. Consider contacting your family ahead of the holidays and let them know your intentions to have this important conversation.
If you need help devising a plan regarding your discussion with your family with respect to estate planning and the holidays, contact the experienced estate planning attorneys at the Jennifer V. Abelaj Law Firm at (646) 885-1330 today.
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Rye Brook, NY 10573
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