Estate planning may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the holidays, but with the family all together, it's actually an opportune time to discuss end-of-life care, asset distribution, and personal arrangements. While you may worry that discussing these serious issues could put a damper on the holiday festivities, a conversation about the future might be easier if every family member is present. Consider taking advantage of the holiday togetherness to begin this important discussion about your future.
What Is an Estate Plan?
You can think of an estate plan as a final to-do list from you to your family. It’s a group of legal documents that outlines your wishes to your loved ones and provides detailed instructions for how those wishes should be carried out should you become incapacitated or after your death. A California estate plan covers a wide range of topics, including property distribution, the care of any minor children, and end-of-life healthcare decisions.
A comprehensive estate plan includes:
- Revocable living trust. This document provides a fast and private way to transfer property to your beneficiaries after your death, without involving the court. With a revocable living trust, you determine who will get your property and assets when you die, and you manage this trust until you are no longer able to do so. If you become incapacitated or die, your named successor trustee takes over. These trusts can be altered or revoked while you're still living to reflect changes in assets and relationships.
- Last will and testament. When used with a revocable living trust, a will serves as a legal back-up to protect assets not currently included in the trust. Known as pour-over wills, these documents allow the transfer of those items to the trust, where they can be managed and distributed by your successor trustee.
- Durable power of attorney over financial affairs. If you were suddenly incapacitated and unable to manage your own finances, a durable power of attorney document gives someone you trust the legal authority to make financial decisions on your behalf.
- Advance healthcare directive. This document takes the guesswork out of end-of-life medical decisions, letting your family know your exact wishes regarding life-sustaining treatments, organ donation, and other healthcare issues.
The Consequences of Delaying an Estate Plan
An estate planning discussion with your loved ones may feel uncomfortable, but putting off this conversation can have serious consequences. Without legal documents detailing asset distribution or how end-of-life care should be handled, family members may argue about how assets should be divided or disagree about your intentions. Clear-cut instructions can offer you and your loved ones much-needed peace of mind.
More importantly, if you die without an estate plan in place, California law will decide who receives your assets through the court-supervised probate process. Probate is lengthy, expensive, and causes the value of your assets to become public record. The goal of a well-crafted estate plan is to avoid the probate process altogether, allowing you to distribute your assets on your own terms and with discretion.
Tips for a Productive Discussion
A discussion about estate planning doesn't have to ruin a holiday get-together. The following tips can help keep the atmosphere lighter and less emotional:
- Don't make the discussion a surprise. Let everyone know in advance that you plan to hold an important family meeting after the regular holiday meal and activities.
- Include all family members. If possible, include family members who couldn't make it in person via video chat or conference call.
- Explain the purpose. Let the family know that talking about estate planning issues is important because you love them and want to ensure they're cared for after your death.
- Ask loved ones which items hold sentimental value. This can help you decide how to distribute your smaller assets—particularly those with little economic value. This question can help keep positive family memories at the forefront of the discussion.
- Be brief. Keep the initial conversation relatively brief, especially if emotions are running high. However, let family members know that you will continue the estate planning conversation with them in the future.
Our team of knowledgeable professionals can walk you through every step of the estate planning process to craft an effective estate plan that meets your needs and goals. For more information or to schedule a consultation, contact us today at 714-459-5481.