With Thanksgiving and the winter holidays coming up, there are at least two prime opportunities to get families all under one roof and talking. Estate planning should be part of that conversation.
No, it probably won't be comfortable, but estate planning rarely is.
“We have clients, and there are certain individuals, that keep things closer to the vest, have a lot of pride and aren't as open with their family in sharing their wishes, estate information and investment/asset information,” says Margaret Paddock, Twin Cities market leader for U.S. Bank’s The Private Client Reserve. “It's an uncomfortable situation to be in, but it's also uncomfortable for the child who has to somewhat push themselves into the parent role. It can ruin a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner pretty quickly.”
Paddock knows this all too well. Some 15 years ago, she watched her 53-year-old mother struggle with early onset dementia. She would get lost driving to familiar places and forget to bathe or wash her clothes. Then she lost her job as a result and was even scammed out of her life savings by a caller who'd told her she won the Mexican lottery and only had to wire $30,000 to pay off the taxes on her “winnings.” By the time Paddock and her family thought to address estate planning, she says it was far too late and -- thanks to an early misdiagnosis -- her mother was not able to make many of those estate planning decisions for herself.
Kim Dula, a partner at Friedman LLP, says that she is a strong proponent of holiday estate planning for exactly this reason. She notes that, with families scattered across the country or around the world, the holidays are typically a family's best shot at addressing important issues with everybody in the same room. However, she points out that though she's held successful holiday estate planning meetings in the past, families need to make sure that they treat it like a family meeting, ban cell phones from the room, get someone to watch the kids, make sure any stragglers are included through a conference call or videoconferencing and, of course, that everyone is in on the plan.