Is Thanksgiving a Good Time to Talk About Estate Planning?
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It’s a time to gather with friends and family. We get to eat good food and watch football. We also get to express our thankfulness for the year’s blessings. But, is Thanksgiving a good time to talk about estate planning? Absolutely! Allow me to tell you why I think so.
Let’s Talk Turkey
First, everyone is together. In my family, Thanksgiving is the one holiday where all of us adult kids gather at my parent’s house. So, Thanksgiving is a perfect time for us to discuss our parent’s estate planning needs. Granted, I’m an estate planning attorney, so it’s natural for us to inevitably start discussing estate planning during the dinner conversation. But, you, too, can have these conversations even if there is no estate planning attorney sitting at your table.
If you decide Thanksgiving is a good time to talk about estate planning, set the tone. The first step is making sure you find a comfortable, calm and private environment to hold the conversation. Probably not a great topic to bring up if your neighbors are visiting. So, pick a time when it is just you and immediate family in the room. You may want to begin the conversation by relaying a story you heard about a friend whose family member died without a will or ended up in a nursing home. That way, you ease into the more difficult conversations.
Talking Point One: Death Arrangements
You may want to start by asking if your parents have given any thought as to what they would like to happen when they die. Do they want to be buried. Or, would they prefer to be cremated? Where should they be buried? What would they like done with their ashes?
You may want to ask if they have given any thought about prepaying for their funerals. And speaking of funerals, who should be notified? What music should be played? Any special requests regarding flowers or donations? Do they even want a funeral?
This topic is usually an easy way to pave the way into more emotional topics of estate planning. Most people have an idea about whether they want to be buried or cremated as we all know we are going to die eventually. Then, once you finish this topic, you can ease into the other talking points.
Talking Point Two: Long Term Care
Long term care is a big topic. We are living longer these days and consequently, most of us will end up in a nursing home at some point in our lives. We probably all know someone in a nursing home. Nursing homes as we know are expensive. An average year in a nursing home could cost $100,000.00 or more! So, a long term care plan is essential.
Some things to consider asking your elderly parents are whether or not they would like to remain in their current home? If not, are they thinking about downsizing? Or, would they like to move in with one of the adult children if it became necessary? If that is the case, is that adult child willing to move his or her parents in with him? Are the other adult children in favor of this decision?
What if mom or dad has to move to a nursing home one day? What will happen to the other parent? Is there long term health care insurance available? Should you meet with an elder law attorney to start discussing ways to preserve assets now, before nursing home care is needed, in case Medicaid is needed to pay for the nursing home care? These are all questions that should be discussed before the need arises. Trust me, you do not want to making these decisions in crisis mode. Better decision are always made when done in preparation of an event that may or may not happen.
Talking Point Three: End of Life Decisions
Now may be a good time to talk about end of life decisions. How do your parents feel about life saving measures being taken when they are in the end of life stage? Would they want to be kept alive as long as possible? Or, would they want to just die naturally when they reach a certain point?
While we are on this topic, now would be a great time to ask your parents if they have a living will in place. A living will, otherwise known as an advance directive for health care, is a written document where a person state his or her wishes as to end of life care. This document helps your loved ones make difficult decision in stressful times. Make sure your parents have this document in place.
Talking Point Four: Who’s In Charge?
Eventually, you will need to discuss who your parents want to be in charge of making decisions on their behalf. Which adult child should be their financial power of attorney? What about medical decisions? Same child or a different child? Which child should be the executor of their estate when they die?
It is very important to actually execute estate planning documents naming the specific child or children who will be in charge of these decisions. You name your financial agent in a Durable Power of Attorney. Likewise, your Health Care Power of Attorney names your medical agent. And, when you execute a Last Will and Testament, you name your Executor.
Why is it important to execute these documents? One, it alleviates the possibility of family arguments over who is in charge. Two, one child may be better at financial decision making whereas another may be better equipped to make medical decisions. By talking these decisions over as a family, everyone will be on the same page. Plus, as parents, you can explain why you are making the decisions you are making.
Talking Point Number Five: Inheritance
With everyone together, now is a great time to talk about the family heirlooms and possessions. In the presence of all the children, parents can ask their children what they might like to inherit from them. You may want to consider tagging those items or writing down the items and the person to whom the item should go.
You want to make sure your parents have wills in place so that everyone will know who should get what property. Trust me, I have had grown adults sitting at my conference table arguing about who mommy loved best after mommy has passed. Not a good situation for anyone to be in especially when grieving the loss of a loved one. So, talk over your plans about who should get what when you die. Let your family members know how you plan on dividing your estate.
Gobble Til You Wobble and Avoid the Family Drama
Hopefully I’ve given you some good reason as to why I believe Thanksgiving is a good time to talk about estate planning.