Discussing An Estate Plan While with Family for The Holidays

As you gather with family for the holidays, creating an estate plan is probably the last thing on your mind.  However, an estate plan can make things easier for the people you love in the event that something unfortunate happens to you or a close family member.   Although no one can predict the future, if you or a loved one leaves unanswered questions in the wake of an untimely death, then not only are your loved ones left grieving your loss but they are left trying to sort through the unanswered questions about what to do with your things and how to wind up all your affairs–all with no input with you. That’s why answering questions now—and formalizing them in an estate plan—is an important step that shouldn’t wait.

Estate planning is a topic that many people want to avoid for the obvious reason that it reminds us of our own mortality.  However, the holidays is the perfect time to discuss some of the important questions that will go into formulating an estate plan, such as who you would want to care for your children in the unlikely event that you pass away early, where all your important documents like the deed to a house and other assets might be located, and how to access a safe deposit box or other secure place in which you keep your important papers and records as well as who has access to those important records and documents.

What is An Estate Plan?

An estate plan is the name that is most commonly used for the set of legal documents that specifically describes how you want your money and other assets distributed in the event of your death, making it easier for your loved ones to handle your affairs during a time of immense grief and stress.  An estate plan typically includes a will and can also include other legal documents, including a power of attorney in the event you become incapacitated or unable to make decisions on your own, appointment of a health care surrogate or a medical directive to assist your loved ones in the process of making medical decisions for you, as well as potentially the creation of a trust if you have assets that you would like to go directly to a beneficiary.

Why Is An Estate Plan Important?

Having an estate plan makes it easier to determine how to dispose of and divide up your assets if something happens to you.  Going through probate can be a particularly painful, arduous and time-consuming process and specifying exactly how you want your assets divided and to whom they will go is particularly important.  (Probate refers to the legal process that is used to settle a person’s estate when he or she dies.)   The probate process can be slow, costly, take time, and freeze assets while the court works through how to distribute them if you die without an estate plan.  In addition, proper planning can ensure that your wishes are respected if something unfortunate is to happen to you and having a conversation with a trusted immediate family member and then naming them as your children’s’ guardian or your medical own power of attorney.

Who Needs An Estate Plan?

Everyone needs an estate plan.  If you are young and single without significant assets yet, your estate plan may be simple and may involve naming the persons you want to make decisions for you if you are incapacitated.  However, it is particularly important to have an estate plan if you are married or have children and you are the primary (or only) breadwinner in your family or if you have a substantial amount of assets and want to avoid the process of probate.

Conclusion: Take a Few Minutes During the Holidays to Think About An Estate Plan

Although it may be the last thing on your mind when it comes to the holidays, make sure to keep the creation and implementation of an estate plan in the back of your mind when all your loved ones are gathered together to enjoy the holidays together.  Although it may seem like an awkward subject to broach with a family member, it is imperative that you have (and keep current) an estate plan that sets forth your exact wishes if you are to tragically die unexpectedly.  As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, particularly when the cure is sparing your grieving family from distributing your assets and determining who will have custody of your children if you die unexpectedly without an estate plan.