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When Family Gathers - Time to Talk about the Future

As Andy Williams sang so eloquently, “It’s the holiday season!” That means it's the time of year to gather with family and friends, perhaps visit the parents or grandparents, maybe drop by the in-laws (or “outlaws” if you’re not too close). As we get older, the routine of holiday gatherings can be a wonderful time to share family history, stories, and memories of younger days. Often we take these holiday moments and focus on our shared past, and rightfully so. Who can resist telling that embarrassing story one more time about how Granddad thought that “surfing the Web” was a story of surfing at a beach in Mexico. We love grandpa for that!

The holidays are indeed a time to talk about our shared past. We enjoy these times and moments as much as anyone, yet given our vocation (as will, tax, trust and estate attorneys) we wanted to propose an added opportunity for your family gatherings this year.  As attorneys, we want to recommend spending some time talking about the future at one of your family gatherings. You know, after grandma and grandpa are gone or when mom or dad passes. These conversations don’t need to be sad or morose. Instead take a tone of friendly recognition of the cycle of life and genuine interest in the enduring welfare of the family. One thing we know for certain from the experience of our legal practice is that planning ahead and getting everyone on the same page in the settlement of an estate produces the best result. It can eliminate hurt feelings, misunderstandings and even broken relationships or will contests.

At one of your next family gatherings, we suggest that you take some time around the kitchen table or your favorite conversation place and talk about the future. Talk about wills, executors, family assets, and talk about mom and/or dad’s wishes for after they’re gone. What’s going to happen to the family home? Is dad’s ex-wife part of the settlement of his estate? Did aunt Josephine really invest in Dad’s business 10 years ago? Talk about the future and ask some questions.

Many of us are reluctant to bring up such topics. Depending on the dynamics of your family, some of these questions could be awkward or maybe even stir up some hard feelings. Our idea: be prepared for the awkwardness or lull in the conversation. Focus on proactive and positive conversations about the future.

For an upcoming family gathering, why not be prepared with some conversation starters about the future of your family and your family’s assets.  Here’s a list to get you going. At a minimum, they are guaranteed to get the conversation started.

  • Do we know where all of your important papers are? Your wills? The family business succession plan?
  • What are you thinking about the family home or properties? What are your wishes for these assets?
  • Are there special assets that you want to specifically direct to charities, foundations or to other parties beyond the family lines?
  • Do we have information about credit card accounts, social media logins, online banking and any other electronic commerce outlets? Where can we find them? (Don’t forget computer logins too!)
  • Who is the desired executor of your estate? Co-executors?
  • Do we know your attorney? What role in the settlement of your estate do you wish them to have?
  • How are you handling extended family? Ex-spouses, step-children, or distant relatives?
  • Are there people you want to exclude from your estate?
  • Have you made informal loans to family members or have family members borrowed from you? Are those loans to be deducted from a distribution of your assets?
  • What do we need to know about your wishes after you’re gone? Tell us what you think and how you want your affairs settled. Have we ever talked about your memorial service?

Any one of these questions should be enough to get a conversation started to be sure. Having discussions about these sorts of things will help ensure that you and your family end up with a better, more shared understanding of the wishes of your loved ones. That would be seriously beneficial when it comes time to settle the estate.

We hope your next family gathering is filled with fun, joy, stories and memories and maybe just a little talk about the future. If you have questions or need help with your tax, will, trust and estate planning, be sure to give us a call.

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