While most people DO get together with their families for at least one of the upcoming holidays, it is rare that the PLANNED discussion involves estate or long-term care planning. However, I have found in my years of practice, that while these discussions are not usually planned, they often occur nonetheless, rather spontaneously. There are excellent books and articles published about HOW to go about starting such conversations… but I honestly doubt that most such conversations start the way they are planned. Corresponding to these family discussions (whether planned or spontaneous), my estate planning practice usually increases during the holiday season.
Long-Term Care Planning
It is during these family gatherings that the needs and desires of family members come to the forefront. Perhaps you talk to your mom or dad frequently over the phone, but will not see him or her until a holiday gathering is upon you. It is only then that you really see how your mom or dad’s physical, emotional or mental condition has changed since the last time you met face to face. It is often, during the weeks and days surrounding such family gatherings that doctors’ visits or legal consultations are scheduled. The children may initiate these visits out of concern… or the parents’ may initiate these visits while they have family in town who can drive them to appointments and can keep them company at such appointments.
Powers of Attorney and Living Wills
Perhaps you are waiting until a family gathering to discuss roles some family members may play in your estate and long-term care plans. An elderly client might choose to pull aside a son and daughter to discuss naming them as Attorneys-in-Fact in a Durable Power of Attorney or as Health Care Agents in a Health Care Power of Attorney. A young parent may pull aside his or her brother, sister, mom or dad, to discuss with them the possibility of serving as their minor child’s guardian or trustee. And while it is generally no one’s idea of happy mealtime conversation, it is often during such family gatherings that candid commentaries regarding end-of-life care are made. Some commentary may be made with heartfelt sincerity, while other commentary may be made in jest to lighten the mood. Most of my clients’ views on end-of-life decision-making stem from their own recent personal experiences regarding the end-of-life care of a close family friend or relative. While such discussions may start out being very public (around the dinner table or in the driveway), they do often spur insight and more private discussions with the family and friends you choose to be involved in such decision-making for you.
Last Wills and Testaments
Such gatherings also usually bring to mind the family members who may not be present this year. Such family members may be absent due to death, illness, estrangement, or merely relocation for a new job, school or marriage. Talk of such family members may bring to mind just how your family dynamics have changed over the years and what changes may need to be made to your estate plans to reflect the current dynamics. The sister you had previously selected as your Executor may not be able to serve due to illness. The brother and sister-in-law you had previously selected to be the guardian of your children may have gotten separated or divorced. The spouse you had previously selected to receive your entire estate may have developed dementia and may not be able to manage the inheritance he or she may receive from you. In any event, such discussion should spur you to revisit your current estate planning and long-term care planning documents to see if they will serve you as they are currently drafted.
Another Set of Eyes and Ears
Many of my clients wish to amend their estate plans during the holidays because they have family and friends around to review the documents with them. It is not uncommon for a client to bring his or her children, siblings, or friends along for the estate planning appointment. These “guests” offer another set of ears to hear the questions asked and the answers given, but also even serve as scribes, writing down information that may need to be gathered. With the permission of the client, these guests may also ask their own questions to help them better understand the discussion or to bring up a question that the client may be too embarrassed to ask.
If family discussions this holiday season steer you and your loved ones to revisit your current estate plans, then please do not hesitate to give us a call. As your needs change, as your family dynamics change throughout the course of your lifetime, we are here to help you plan accordingly. We are your lawyers, every step of the way.