Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thanksgiving Conversation, Estate Planning Attorney Style

It is upon us, the week of Thanksgiving.  Hands down this is my favorite holiday.  The change of season is still new (at least here in Madison, Wisconsin).  The verdant colors of summer long gone.  Only a few burst of gold can be seen on a tree here and there.  And a blanket of white snow covers the ground.  Soon we'll gather in kitchens, sit around tables adorned with a feast, and chat by the fire.  Yes, it is my favorite holiday.   And given how I spend my work days, I see it as the perfect time of year to cover some basics in estate planning with the friends and loved ones you'll spend the holiday with.

Okay, so these are not my suggestions for conversations over the actual turkey meal (or tofu if that is your preference), but sometime over the long weekend you might want to:
  1. Tell loved ones that you have completed a will, power of attorney, and or beneficiary forms.  They do not need to know the specifics, but they do need to know where originals are stored;
  2. If copies of powers of attorney are valid in your state, make sure the people you have named are given a copy; and
  3. If your visit is spent with the people you have named to make your medical decisions, keep them up-to-date on your wishes and desires.  Has anything about your health condition changed in the past year?  Should s/he know about the change.
Looking beyond your own documents, assess your older loved ones.  Is there health failing?  Are there signs of dementia?  Are you comfortable asking if they have done documents themselves?  And if so, where they can be found.  Not every relationship can be this open and honest, but ask yourself -- what would happen if you received a call about a loved one who has fallen into a coma.  Will you be expected to act?  Will you know his/her wishes?  Does the person even have documents created?  If not, who in the family and or friend group would step forward.  Know that you cannot make a person do anything in the area of estate planning.  But, I have found that the smallest amount of thought beforehand can save enormous time and energy when "life happens".  So give it some thought, not too much, and then go back to enjoying one another's company and the loveliness that is Thanksgiving!

The hearth at our home, waiting for the fire Thanksgiving Day!

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