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Millions of people will travel across the country to be with their families this holiday season, and a large percentage of those people will struggle to come up with the best gifts for their family members. Some will take the easy way out and throw a gift card or cash into an envelope and call it a day. Others will overpay third party vendors to obtain the hottest items that are sold out in stores. Will you be a part of the population that ends up feeling defeated because your gifts were not good enough? What if there were better options? If you are willing to put in a little work, and have some deep conversations with your family members, there are some things that you might want to consider doing for your family this holiday season.
What’s Your Plan?
In 1789, Benjamin Franklin wrote in a letter, “In this world nothing is said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Your family might resemble the perfect Hallmark family with you in the picture, but what will happen to them when you are no longer around? Will they continue their Hallmark ways, or will they transform into the feuding family that’s highlighted in an action-packed episode of Jerry Springer? The future of your family relies heavily on the plan you have in place when you are gone. If you don’t have a plan, this holiday season is the perfect opportunity to break the ice with your family and gather useful information while they are all under one roof.
What’s That? You Don’t Have a Plan in Place?
As a law firm that practices elder law and estate planning, we have seen this scenario play out way too many times. The head of the family passes away and there are no estate planning documents in existence. A member of the family calls us because one of their siblings has keyed into the house, is said to be claiming and removing items, and other siblings are also on the way to the house. The once peaceful home has now turned into a free for all. The family member is calling the police because and doesn’t know what to do. Unfortunately, coming to us this late in the game means that we are doing clean-up, instead of prevention. The family will have to file a significant amount of paperwork with the Probate Court and ultimately state law and a judge will determine who receives those assets and who will be responsible for managing the estate. This process usually takes a year or more to complete after death.
Give the Gift of Peace of Mind
If you do have a Will or a Trust in place, use the holidays as an opportunity to communicate to your family that you do have documents in place for when you pass. You don’t have to go into details about every bequest, but if your family is aware that you’ve planned, it will give them peace of mind. They won’t need to stress out with all the “what ifs” if something should happen to you. You might want to consider having a side conversation with anyone that you have appointed as a Personal Representative in the Will, or the Trustee in your trust, so they are aware of the responsibilities and expectations that will be placed on them in the future.
Play Some Family Games, but With a Hidden Agenda!
If you don’t have a Will or Trust in place, it’s never too early to start gathering intel that you will use when you decide to sit down with your estate planning attorney and hammer out the details of your wishes. Whether you choose a Will or a Trust, you will need to identify someone as your Personal Representative or your Trustee. This person will need to be responsible, trustworthy, communicate well, and be patient. If you are struggling to identify which family members might fit the profile, engage them in games of Monopoly, Pictionary, Charades, and Poker. You certainly don’t want to choose someone who can’t keep their cool or cheats during Monopoly, can’t communicate and be patient during Pictionary or Charades, and certainly not someone who doesn’t understand the rules of poker.
Take Time to Talk About the Past
If you have a medium-sized to large-sized family, one of the hardest tasks presented to you is determining what happens with your assets. Our clients tend to have less stress when deciding how to allocate money and more stress when deciding what to do with items like vehicles, houses, jewelry, and other heirlooms. One way to go about this during the holidays is just flat out asking, “Who wants what?” That method may give you some insight into what your family thinks about your “stuff”. Another method involves picking the right moment to have story time about those specific items. For example, nothing beats a good “remember that one time” story. Bring up that one time you tried to teach a family member how to drive a manual transmission with the old Mustang that’s still sitting in the garage. That story should waterfall into other stories and before you know it, you will have a clear vision of who hates that car and who would actually appreciate it for its true value.
After the Holidays…
Now that the holidays are over, your work is far from over. If you do have a Will or Trust in place, you might want to make modifications if your family has grown or if someone went on a drunken rampage after consuming too much eggnog and you realize that they no longer deserve what you have set aside for them! If you don’t have Estate Planning documents in place, you have gathered some information from the holidays to get started. If you need information or assistance with Probate, Probate Assets, Wills, Trusts, Revocable Trusts, Irrevocable Trusts, Privacy, Taxes, or other planning tools, please visit LawyerLisa.com.
Lisa Hostetler Brown 5175 Sunset Blvd Ste. 1 Lexington, SC 29072 Serving the State of South Carolina Firms past performance and experience does not guarantee future results.