Often the poorest people leave their children the richest inheritance. Regardless of how much or how little, throughout one's lifetime we acquire some measure of prosperity. Whether it is simply family photos, an old car and a small bank account or an abundance of wealth including real estate, savings, and investment accounts, most everyone today who dies has something to leave to their loved ones. If you have made no plans to pass your prosperity on to your loved ones, you may burden them with needless family feuds and substantial legal costs to settle your estate. Realize, "You Can't Take It With You."
Although the holidays are supposed to be a time for family and celebration, for many it is a time for unexpected sadness. According to a study published in the journal of Social Science & Medicine, more people are likely to die on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day than any other day of the year. Also, the National Center for Health Statistics reported that up to 18% more people die during Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years, than the rest of the year.
In the Charles Dickens's classic, “The Christmas Carol”, the Ghost of Christmas Present told Ebenezer Scrooge that "There is never enough time to do or say all the things that we would wish. The thing is to try to do as much as you can in the time that you have. Remember Scrooge, time is short, and suddenly, you're not here anymore."
Realizing that one, or both, of your parents is getting older and possibly needing assistance is difficult to process. Your parents may be unwilling to discuss their health with you because of embarrassment, shame, denial or pride. There is no better time than the Holidays to open the dialogue with them about their health, welfare and happiness.
Why are the Holidays an opportune time for discussions about family health issues and asset protection?
There is less pressure of daily work routines, family members come together, and most importantly, the family can comfortably open a discussion over a glass of eggnog and a turkey leg or while opening gifts. Rarely, if ever, is there a first-hand opportunity throughout the year to have such discussions with your parents.
So how do we make our parents feel comfortable talking about their health and asset protection? Remember, the discussion is about your parents’ estate planning including their health, assets, family, loved ones, not-so-loved ones, gifts, feuds, drama, etc. It is about their day-to-day living and their legacy and not simply about their demise.
One way to begin is to discuss those documents everyone should have during life such as a health care surrogate or a durable power of attorney. If your mother enters the hospital while unconscious, no one can make any medical decisions for her without her having granted written authorization for them to do so. If your mother is your only living parent, who will pay her bills while she lay unconscious? This requires a durable power of attorney signed by her.
The Holidays are meant to be a joyous time for family and friends to share intimate and loving concerns for one another and to celebrate the coming New Year. And once you have shared eggnog, champagne, turkey, gifts, and fire works with family and friends, begin the New Year by consultating with an estate planning attorney to discuss how to help safeguard your parents’ future. Remember, “time is short, and suddenly, you're not here anymore and you can't take it with you.”