It’s the Friday after Thanksgiving. You have probably hit the point at which you are recovering from your Black Friday shopping, debating whether ordering pizza is preferable to eating yet another leftover turkey sandwich, or consulting the TV guide to find out when the next football game is on.
Thanksgiving is a great opportunity for many families to talk about estate planning. Granted, it’s not always a comfortable conversation, but if your family is like mine, you have few opportunities when all of your adult children are in the same place at the same time. Here are a few topics you might want to talk about:
- Who you’ve designated as your response team – the people you want to act on your behalf should you become unable to make your own health or financial decisions. Hopefully, you talked to these people when you created the documents (such as a General Durable Power of Attorney or a Health Care Power of Attorney) that grant them authority to act. Review which people are supposed to fulfill what roles, and make sure that the people you have designated are still able to step in if you need them. If you haven’t yet created response team documents, now is a great time to ask your family members if they would be comfortable being named to act on your behalf.
- Where you keep your important papers, such as your Power of Attorney documents, the logins and passwords to your online accounts, your financial information and documents, and contact information for your medical and financial professionals. You don’t have to sit down and tell your children your bank balances or the results of your most recent medical tests if you don’t feel comfortable sharing that much information, but you want your response team to know where to look for important information if there’s an emergency and you aren’t there to guide them through your filing system.
- What your end-of-life wishes are. This is possibly the most difficult conversation to have with your children, but there will come a time in which they have to make tough decisions on your behalf – whether they should agree to invasive medical treatment to prolong your life, whether to bring you home from the hospital or nursing home when the end is near,or whether to donate your organs after your death. Someday they are going to have to plan your funeral. No matter how well-prepared they are for these events, it will not be an easy time for your family. The best thing you can do for them is to help them prepare by telling them what you want, so they don’t feel like they are guessing about what they think you would want.
If your family is like mine, you are probably a lot more comfortable engaging in a debate about your fantasy football team’s chances this season or whether your favorite sitcom will be renewed for another season than you are in bringing the conversation around to these weightier topics. Here are a few suggestions for your opening lines:
- While loading the dishes after the latest round of leftovers: “Hey, kids – your dad and I talked to a lawyer earlier this year and wrote our wills. Since you are all here until Sunday afternoon, we were wondering if we could take an hour on Saturday morning (while the grandkids are watching cartoons/YouTube videos/sleeping til noon) to go over everything with you. We don’t want to make a big deal about it, but I’d feel so much better if I knew that you knew what to do if we ever have an emergency.”
- During the sixth repeat of the same insurance commercial at halftime of the football game: “Hey dad – I was reading an article online, and I realized that I have no idea what I would do if I got a call that you were in the hospital. At some point, do you think it would be a good idea to talk about anything you think I should know in case of an emergency? We don’t have to do it now, but I’d feel a lot better if we talked about it sometime.”
In both of these situations, it’s important that you then follow up with your family members to make sure that the conversation actually happens. In my experience, though, the hardest part of these conversations is often just broaching the subject. Once somebody has had the guts to point out the elephant in the room, the conversation often flows more easily than you thought it would.
If you haven’t had the opportunity to develop your response team and estate plan, or if you need guidance in talking to your family members about end-of-life decisions, the attorneys at Severns & Howard are here to help you. We know that these are tough conversations to have, but we also know that having them is one of the greatest gifts you can give to your family, because it brings peace of mind to all of you.
We hope that your Thanksgiving weekend is full of love and laughter.