As we approach the holiday season, many of us are looking forward to spending time away from work to get together with our families. For some of us, this will be the first holiday in two years that we have been able to all gather together.
Many people’s holiday preparation list includes planning menus, decorating the home, and purchasing presents. If you’re checking it twice, you may wish to include discussing your estate plan. This may seem like a gloomy discussion to have during an otherwise celebratory time; however, I think it is often easier to have these discussions at a theoretical level during a period of levity, than it is during a time of crisis or following a loved-one’s death. Ideally, your estate plan should not be a surprise that is revealed to your family (and other important people in your life) during a challenging moment, particularly if your estate will be distributed in a manner that may be unexpected.
So, what should you discuss? A few ideas to get the conversation started:
- Who you have appointed (or intend to appoint) as your executor, and where your Will is being kept;
- Wishes for a funeral or celebration of life, if any;
- Plans for charitable gifting following your death, if any;
- How your estate will be distributed, including who the beneficiaries are, any special trust terms you have included, and whether you have any specific wishes (even if they are not enforceable) about what you would like the beneficiaries to do with their inheritance;
- How any family properties (such as a cottage or vacation home) should be dealt with, and who, if anyone, is interested in receiving an interest in the property;
- How any pets or animals you have should be cared for following your death; and
- Who should be the guardian of any minor children, if you and the child’s other custodial parent or parents are not alive.
Families with more complex planning needs (for example, family business succession planning, or planning for beneficiaries or property in another country), will likely need a more in-depth, ongoing discussion, but these questions provide a few straightforward ideas to start the conversation.
Most importantly, once you’ve had an opportunity to discuss with your family, you can get back to the business of celebrating, knowing that your family is taken care of.
Wishing everyone a happy and healthy holiday season!