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Unless your family regularly has a cataclysmic breakdown over the holidays, it is the perfect time of year to discuss estate planning. Many families are geographically spread out, so when everyone is together in one place for the holidays, having a group meeting to discuss the family's estate plan, and other important matters, just makes sense.
There are two main issues that parents (or their children) need to address: advanced directives and the parents' will. Since these issues are not really great dinner topics, it is best to set a time before or after, or even on a different day so long as everyone is still in town. To help coordinate, it is usually a good idea to notify everyone, in advance of them making travel or vacation plans, that the discussion or meeting is going to happen on a particular day and time.
An advanced directive is a legal document that advises doctors about certain medical decisions a person wishes to be made if they become unable to make the decisions. Typically, these involve requests to either remove, or not remove, life support, or not to resuscitate, if a person becomes incapacitated, comatose, brain dead, or is suffering from some other condition.
Frequently, advanced directives are difficult documents to discuss with family members, especially if a parent is adamant about not being resuscitated if the worst happens. Having the discussion may be difficult, but hopefully, when everyone is together, everyone can talk openly about their emotions and the decisions.
An alternative to the advanced directive is the durable power of attorney, or health care power of attorney. This document will appoint an individual, usually a spouse or adult child, as the person responsible for making health care decisions (and potentially other decisions) if a person is incapacitated.
Will / Estate Plan
Another important topic to discuss is the ever important, sometimes contentious, estate plan. While parents will generally leave their estates to their spouses, children and grandchildren, frequently individuals want to make charitable contributions as well as leave certain items to non-family members. While big items, like a house or car, may cause some dissension, it is important to discuss these matters so that when the time comes, there is no confusion. Also, while it may seem morbid, having the discussion may also enlighten a parent as to what are the important, sentimental items that are specifically wanted.
Meeting with an estate planning attorney before having the big family meeting is a good idea in order to have a better sense about your estate's size. Also, since these issues are all matters of state law, a local attorney can advise you about how the process works, give you some talking points to discuss with your family, and help you finalize your documents after the big talk.
End on a Lighthearted Note: Digital Planning
Lastly, while the above might require some emotional discussions, letting your family know how you want your email and social media accounts handled will feel like a lighthearted way to end the discussion.