Give the Gift of Estate Planning

By: Kathryn J. Van Balen

Every family celebrates the holidays a little differently. No matter what your current traditions are, every family should consider adding estate planning to their list. A comprehensive estate plan can help avoid family conflict and future confusion, protect your children, enforce your end of life wishes, and protect your finances and assets.

First, an estate plan can help avoid family conflict and future confusion once you pass. Whether your estate plan consists of a Will, a Trust, or a combination of the two, the plan should designate a person who is in charge of managing your estate or Trust. Depending on the estate plan, this person may be called a personal representative or a trustee. If no person is designated, the court may designate your spouse, children or another heir. The lack of a designated person may cause confusion. It also may result in a family conflict if there is a disagreement about who should be designated. Making a plan and discussing it with your family may lessen the risk of future conflict. Additionally, it helps ensure that a person you trust, and who is familiar with your wishes, is in charge. 

Second, an estate plan can help avoid fights. Memories live on through objects. Whether it’s the Christmas ornament from your family trip to Disney World or dad’s old fishing rod, kids want the sentimental stuff. In addition to making a Will, you can create a separate list which directs certain items to certain people. This guidance can help your family and close friends avoid awkward conversations, or even arguments.

Third, an estate plan can help protect your minor children and other dependents. If something happens to you, will your minor children live with your sister in Idaho or your brother in Omaha? An estate plan can help you clarify who you want to be the guardian of your children and who you want to manage any assets your children may have inherited. Having a plan will both help protect your children and ensure that your wishes are known.

Fourth, an estate plan can enforce your end of life wishes. A Living Will can outline your health care wishes in the event you are unable to make health care decisions yourself, or are unable to communicate your wishes. Often people want to outline the level of life support they would like, or the type of support they would not like. Another option is a Health Care Power of Attorney which gives someone you trust the power to make health care choices for you when you are incapacitated. Both are vital to make sure your wishes are respected. Moreover, there’s no one better to make these decisions than you. Not only do these decisions impact you, they impact your family. These are sensitive decisions, and no one wants their loved one to stress about making the wrong choice. By creating these documents, and making your wishes known, you can ensure your end of life wishes are respected and give peace of mind to your loved ones.

Finally, an estate plan can help protect your finances and assets while you are still alive. If you have to be in the hospital for an extended period of time, who will pay your electric bill, your rent, and other expenses? Similar to a Heath Care Power of Attorney, a Durable Financial Power of Attorney allows you to give someone you trust the ability to make financial decisions for you if you are incapacitated. In addition to paying bills, a Durable Financial Power of Attorney allows the person you designate to manage your real estate, review and assess your financial accounts, and invest on your behalf. The person you appoint must act in your best interests to protect your finances and assets.      

These are just a few of the benefits of creating a comprehensive estate plan. As mentioned above, estate plans usually include a variety of documents, such as a Will and/or Trust, a Health Care Power of Attorney, a Living Will, and a Durable Financial Power of Attorney. Although not a replacement for any of these documents, also consider leaving a personalized message, such as a letter or video, for your loved ones. Losing a loved one is difficult, and leaving a letter or video is a gift your family can treasure forever. Finally, once these documents and plans are made, make sure they are in a safe place and someone you trust knows where everything is. An estate plan both protects your family and protects your wishes. Consider setting up your estate plan, and talking about your wishes at your next family gathering. While it may not be an easy conversation, it will help you enjoy the holiday season knowing your family is taken care of. This holiday season, give the gift of an estate plan. If you have any questions about how to create an estate plan that is right for you, feel free to contact our office to set up an appointment.