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Family Matters: Discuss Them this Holiday Season

Most of us don’t think of the holiday season as a good time to meet with family members to discuss such topics as who should have power of attorney, the location of our living will, questions about estate planning, or other family issues. However, very often, the holidays are in fact the best time to discuss such family matters.

For many families scattered across the country, the holidays are the only time each year the clan gathers. Enjoy the festivities, good food and holiday traditions. But this year, also schedule some time off to the side so parents, siblings and adult children can discuss important family matters.

Why? Because families tend to wait until it's too late to discuss important issues...until after the one person who knows the answers isn't able to provide them. How will the bills be paid while Dad is in the hospital? Has Bob designated a durable power of attorney? Where is Mom's will? Who was supposed to get Grandma's wedding ring? Has anybody found the key to the safe deposit box? Was Aunt Clara really promised the good crystal?

At first glance, this may not seem like joyful holiday fare…not a great topic for discussion around the Thanksgiving table. You’re right.

What are the advantages of discussing family matters during the holidays?

However, there are at least three advantages to discussing these important family matters during the holidays…or at any time, for that matter:

1. Parents can explain their decisions and concerns about their estate plans and keep their loved ones in the loop.

2. Other family members can express their own desires and concerns.

3. Such discussions can strengthen family bonds, bringing loved ones closer together, and avoiding misunderstandings.

So, this year, ask family members to adjourn to the den or family room for 30 minutes of discussion before the football game or Thanksgiving Day parade starts or while everyone is digesting their holiday dinners. (It is also recommended that you give them the heads-up in advance so they can come prepared. See the suggested discussion checklist in the box below.)

Then plan to meet again next year, as part of a family tradition — perhaps for an hour after a holiday feast or over breakfast on News Year Day. Make it a pleasant ritual.

Caution: Family meetings may not work for every family. If you believe such gatherings may prove contentious, arrange to talk privately with individuals. Either way, be sure to review your needs and take appropriate action.

In the right circumstances and if all heirs cooperate, however, such holiday gatherings can be an effective way to mix business and pleasure during the holidays...and ensure that everyone's interests are understood and considered.

Family Matters Discussion Checklist

Here is a recommended checklist of topics to cover. (Feel free to copy and use it in your family meeting, adding items as needed.) All adult family members should be encouraged to complete it before meeting. Then use each item as a platform for discussion.

1. Do I have an updated will? (All adults should have one, not just senior family members.)

2. Are there specific family heirlooms I would like to receive someday (or give to a specific family member)? These decisions can be included in your will.

3. Do I have guardians for minor children?

4. Do I have a durable power of attorney?

5. Do I have a living will and medical power of attorney? You have a legal right to specify the level of care you wish to receive if you are incapacitated. Most of all, you can designate the individuals responsible for making such decisions.

6. Are my life insurance, pension, IRA and annuity beneficiary designations current?

7. Are all my important documents in one place, such as a safe deposit box? Are designated family members’ names on the signature card?

8. Do I have a list of important information, such as bank and other account numbers, life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and other assets, along with the names and contact information of my attorney, accountant, New York Life agent, and other professionals?

9. Do I need to contact my attorney to update my will, or my New York Life agent to review my life insurance and other plans?

What family matters are you planning on discussing this holiday season? Share your thoughts below.

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Family Matters: Discuss Them this Holiday Season

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