When you think of family gatherings over the winter holidays, you think of big meals, football games on the TV and homemade cookies from recipes passed down over several generations. What you don’t often think of is using this gathering of the clan to discuss one’s estate plan.
Yet, that might be exactly what you should do. While no one recommends bringing up your pending mortality while carving the holiday ham, if you are the patriarch or matriarch of the family, it’s prudent to tell your adult children (and grandchildren, when applicable) that you would like a few minutes of their time for a serious discussion during the visit.
What do your heirs need to know, and why?
Since estate planning is the umbrella term for everything from advanced health care directives to complex trusts spanning several generations, it’s a good idea to go over the basics with your closest kith and kin. Your good friends should also know of your intentions if you plan to appoint one of them as your health care proxy or estate executor.
One problem with not having these discussions now is that once you are incapacitated, you can no longer express your intentions for advanced life support and other end-of-life decisions. Maybe you want to be cremated, and state so in your will. But the will may remain in your safety deposit box — inaccessible to the decision-makers — until the death certificate arrives weeks later and you are already buried in the family plot.
Your heirs may be counting on a bequest that may not ever come
Alternatively, your children or grandchildren may be counting on an inheritance they may never receive. If, like a character on HBO’s popular show Succession, you intend to leave your entire estate to Greenpeace (or another charity of your choice), it is a kindness to prepare your expectant heirs for the future they face without the backing of a cash legacy from you.
Whether you choose the holidays or another occasion to broach this topic, the important thing is that you communicate your desires, intentions and a way to access the documents you signed when they are needed most.