Thanksgiving table full of food where you can discuss estate planningIt's the holiday week and we've got a house full of sick kids from last week, so the last thing on our minds may be estate planning by the time we get to Thursday. Most people think that the Thanksgiving table isn't the place to talk about things like religion, politics, money, or other topics that can get your family members riled up. Depending upon when your celebration starts this year, you can even distract the whole crew from dawn to dusk with World Cup matches that later bleed into NFL games - you may never have to leave the couch with all the sports on!

Even though there are plenty of other things to talk about at the table, estate planning isn't a topic to be avoided and the Thanksgiving holiday is actually one of the better times to bring it up. With most of your loved ones in the room, you can check in on everyone and see how they are doing and see if there are any future issues that may need to be planned for. Especially after a few years where we may not have been getting together in-person as much, this year's Turkey Day can provide a glimpse at how everyone is really doing and if there are issues you need to discuss as a family.

Talking Estate Planning with Your Family

Many clients tell me that it's awkward for them to bring up estate planning with their families in any context, let alone during the holidays. I'm a firm believer that talking with your family about your estate plan is an important part of the process. You don't need to walk in the door for the holiday and start right in on asking everyone if they have their estate plan done, but the discussions can actually be a good way to connect with family members. In talking with them, the goal is not to make them feel like they have made a mistake if they don't have an up-to-date estate plan, but to make sure you are encouraging them that they are taking the right steps to protect their legacy.

One of the reasons Thanksgiving is a good time of year to have this discussion is that there are still at least five weeks left in the year (and about four weeks or so until Christmas) and there's time for your family members to have their estate plan put together by Christmas or the end of the year. While I encourage everyone to have these open discussions, it doesn't mean that they have to show you their estate plan (although if you're a lawyer like me, they often volunteer to send the document right over to be reviewed), but they should feel comfortable enough to let you know whether or not an estate plan exists for them. And if they don't have an estate plan, you can also serve an important role and help them find the right professional to work with.

What Should You Ask?

One of the biggest impediments to people asking others about an estate plan is that they don't know what questions to ask. If you've already created your estate plan, you should have some idea of what the process looks like, but if you haven't done yours yet, or yours was done years ago, you may not be sure where the conversation should start. Here are some easy conversation starters for you if they have an estate plan:

  • Do you have a trust too or just a will?
  • Do you have powers of attorney for financial decisions and healthcare decisions?
  • Are your documents in a safe place? (And the most important follow-up: They aren't in a safe deposit box, right???)

If they don't have an estate plan yet, some other conversation starters include:

  • Do you have particular wishes for medical treatment if you become sick?
  • Are you working with a financial advisor and an attorney who can help you create an estate plan?
  • If you aren't ready to do a full estate plan, do you have time to get your powers of attorney in place at least?

No matter what their answers are to these questions, it's important to at least get the conversation started. Hopefully, it will help them realize that they need to get going on their estate plan and if you don't have one either, it should serve as a reminder for you to get started as well.

Next Steps

If it's time to update your estate plan or create one for the first time, let's set up a complimentary Legal Strategy Session and discuss the best options for you and your family. Your family members can also use that same link to get on the calendar for a Legal Strategy Session as well so that we can make sure to get the ball rolling before the end of the year and you can discuss who won the World Cup in December instead of revisiting your estate plan discussions...

Andrew Ayers
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I work with business and estate planning clients to craft legal solutions to protect their legacies.
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