As the holiday season approaches, we anticipate joyous family gatherings, great food, holiday merriment, and…estate planning? While it may seem like a taboo topic for a fireside chat, estate planning is critically important and the holidays can present the perfect time to get things in motion.
Here are some important things to consider:
Home for the Holidays –With children scattered across the country and grandkids away at college, it’s rare that families members are the in the same place at the same time. Odds are that holiday get-togethers, weddings and funerals are the only exceptions. Take advantage of having more of your loved ones under one roof so you can have the conversations you need to have with individuals or a group.
It’s the Thought that Counts –Estate planning is often misunderstood (and therefore avoided) because it is perceived as something that is only necessary for people who are either very old, very ill, or very rich. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth! Estate planning accounts for much more than curbing estate taxes for the wealthy or deciding who will inherit assets after someone passes. It brings clarity to some fundamental and deeply personal issues impacting the daily lives of people of all ages and families of all kinds. For example:
- Deciding who will make medical, financial and parental decisions for you should you become incapacitated
- Tackling tricky family circumstances surrounding divorce, remarriage, step-families, and even things like drug and alcohol abuse
- Planning for the long-term care of a special needs child or elder parent
- Establishing a business succession plan
- Looking for ways to reduce income taxes
- Making gifts to loved ones and charitable organizations (even while you’re alive)
- Much, much more
Be Wary of Buying Online –Buying a sweater online is one thing, but creating a legal document online is another. Drafting a Will by yourself is like trying to give yourself surgery. It’s risky business. Why chance your family’s future to an online estate planning service instead of hiring an experienced professional to assist you? If you make a mistake drafting a Will on your own, by the time it is discovered, it could be too late. The stakes are too high.
Making a List, Checking It Twice –Having an outdated or incomplete estate plan can be as good as having no estate plan at all. Even if you’ve tacked estate planning in the past, keep in mind that your documents need to be thoroughly reviewed at least every four years to account for new laws or new estate planning strategies that could benefit you. In addition to four-year reviews, you should have your estate plan reviewed immediately if any of the following occur:
- A change in marital status
- The birth of a child
- A change in your state of residence
- A significant change in the value or character of your assets
- A change in intended beneficiaries
- The death of a beneficiary
- The death of a guardian, trustee, or personal representative named in your will
- A change in tax laws affecting federal (and your local state) estate tax deductions and calculations
- A change in privacy laws or other laws that affect the access to medical and financial information
The Bottom Line: The holiday season is a time when we pause to reflect on the people and things that matter to us. Take time this holiday to discuss estate planning with your loved ones. You’ll rest more comfortably in the New Year.
Download a PDF of “‘Tis the Season for Estate Planning” here.