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The holiday season is a time for celebration and joy, for sharing love and warmth with those who matter most – our family and loved ones. Amidst the festive cheer and merriment, it also presents an opportune moment to have important conversations with your loved ones about your estate plan. While it may seem counterintuitive to discuss estate planning during a time traditionally associated with joy and togetherness, it’s these very sentiments that make it the perfect time. Estate planning is not just about assets and legalities, it’s about ensuring a secure future for those you care about. It’s about expressing your love and concern for them in the most practical way. In this blog post, we’ll discuss some key points you’ll want to be sure to talk about with your loved ones this holiday season.
Communicate Your Estate Plan
Along with drafting a comprehensive estate plan, it is critical that you have communicated your intentions to those persons who will represent and carry out your decisions when the time comes. They are usually family members or friends that you have chosen to be your executor, agent, trustee, or healthcare power of attorney. You have chosen these individuals out of trust and loyalty. Though it may feel weird to talk about it, you never want to leave your wishes (or nominations) a secret from those you have entrusted. From a survivor’s perspective, if they have no prior knowledge of the intricacies of your plans, it leaves room for confusion, disputes, and dysfunction, including potential courtroom litigation.
Every client that I meet with desires to have their family, especially their children, refrain from fighting after they have passed. When tragedy strikes, your family would rather have known your wishes up front, expressed in person, rather than reading it from a piece of paper. Many times, your decision to select one child over the other may have the unintended effect of hurting the feelings of the children you didn’t entrust with handling your affairs. Because of this, you may wish to explain your choices to your children, which will also help prevent disputes and hard feelings later on.
Explain Each Person’s Role
There are many reasons why you may have selected the people you did for the roles they have in your estate plan. For example, perhaps you named your daughter as healthcare POA because she’s a nurse. Perhaps you named your brother as executor and/or trustee because you don’t want to show favoritism among your children. Whatever the reasons may be, it’s helpful to explain the role these individuals have because they may not want or understand the work, time, and responsibility involved. Should the people you’ve chosen not be willing to take on the responsibility of the role you’ve assigned them, having this frank conversation will allow you time to redesign your estate plan to put a new agent in place.
Helpful Tip: Focus on Who is Best Suited to Carry Out the Duties of Each Role
Parents often make the mistake of trying to create an estate plan that will make everything equal between their children — with each sharing in the “honor” of having equal responsibilities. If you have multiple children, focus instead on which child would be the best fit for each job. Other children can be alternate or successor agents, serving only if your primary agent is not able or unwilling to serve. Don’t make the mistake of naming one child as a healthcare agent because you want to be “fair” without considering whether they will be capable of making hard decisions about your medical care when you are unable to do so for yourself.
Create and Share an Account Summary
According to Forbes, there’s more than $49 billion sitting in unclaimed funds. These are funds that people haven’t claimed because family members and heirs don’t know the money exists. With so much of our commerce taking place in the digital world these days, it’s not surprising that heirs have zero knowledge of the accounts you own. If you would like your family to receive your estate instead of the government, I strongly urge you to create a comprehensive account summary that lists all of your assets. Update this list anytime you open or close new accounts, and share this list with your estate plan agents, such as your trustee, executor, and financial power of attorney. You do not need to include values for these accounts; simply knowing they exist will be enough. Your account summary should include the following information:
- Name of Institution (U.S. Citizen’s Bank, for example)
- The Owner of the Account (Jane Smith or the Smith Family Trust, for example)
- Account Number
- Beneficiary (if any are named)
Be sure to share this summary with those involved in administering your estate.
Storing Estate Plan Documents in the Right Place
Estate planning documents should never be stored in a safety deposit box. If your executor is not a joint account holder on the box, then they will have to go through probate to gain access to the box. Moreover, if your healthcare POA or other agents need quick access to your estate planning documents (such as your healthcare directives or financial POA), they may not have access because banks are not open 24/7. A better option is storing your documents in a file cabinet or other safe place that is easy for your agents to access. This can also include a fireproof safe in your home, as long as your agents can get into the safe without your help. Most importantly, be sure to let your agents know where your estate planning documents are stored.
Helpful Hint: Upload Healthcare Directives for Quick Digital Access
Upload your healthcare POA, living will, and HIPPA authorization with your primary care physician so they always have it on file. The Cleveland Clinic allows you to upload these healthcare directives through MyChart. If you’re not savvy with computers, then simply take a copy of these items to your next doctor’s visit for them to keep on file.
Maintenance of Your Estate Plan
According to the US Census, the average American moves more than 9 times in their life. Multiply that by the number of interested parties you have in your estate plan, and it’s easy to see that your plan will need to be updated often. Changing an address or phone number is an easy task and one that doesn’t cost much, if any, to achieve. When you meet with your family during this holiday season, check to confirm that your plan reflects your agents’ current contact information (address and phone number). Also, be sure to update your estate planning attorney with any changes that need to be made to keep your documents current.
As we wrap up this holiday season, let’s embrace the opportunity to provide our loved ones with a gift that truly lasts – peace of mind. So, amidst the gift exchanges and holiday cheer, take a moment to discuss your estate plan. It could be the most lasting and meaningful gift you give them. If you haven’t created an estate plan yet but are ready to begin or have any questions about the process, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. The dedicated team at Pierce Legal is here to guide you every step of the way, making the process as straightforward and painless as possible. Contact us (330) 588-6115 to schedule a consultation and let us help you navigate your estate planning journey.
Beyond Wills: The Importance of Having a Comprehensive Estate Plan
Revocable v. Irrevocable Trust: Which is Right for You?
Secure Your Children’s Future: A Guide to Estate Planning for Parents with Minor Children