Using the Holidays to Discuss a Difficult Topic

Estate Planning Discussions

It’s unbelievable, but 2023 is almost over.   As we approach the holidays, we come together to unite with family, enjoy great food, and engage in many discussions.  One discussion that is often overlooked is the importance of communicating your wishes in regard to estate planning.  It’s challenging, difficult, and maybe even unthinkable to imagine losing a loved one or what to do in a time of crisis. Nonetheless, planning ahead and communicating your wishes is imperative to having an informed family and your wishes met. Consider utilizing the time you have together in the upcoming months to discuss these important topics, moreover, implementing the practical suggestions discussed below in your personal estate plan.

Communicate Your Plan

Along with drafting a comprehensive estate plan, it is critical that you have communicated your intentions to the individuals that will represent and implement your plan. These individuals are usually family members or friends that you have chosen to be your representatives in the event of death or incapacity (e.g., executor, trustee, financial and healthcare power of attorney). You have chosen these individuals out of trust and loyalty but you should not leave your wishes a secret.  From a survivor’s perspective, if they have no prior knowledge of the intricacies of your plans, it leaves room for confusion, disputes, and dysfunction, including potential courtroom litigation.

Every client that I meet desires to have their family, especially their children, refrain from fighting after they have passed.  When tragedy strikes, your family would rather have known your wishes upfront, expressed in person from your mouth, compared to reading it from a piece of paper.  Many times, your decision to select one child over the other may be hurtful to the subordinate child.  This being the case, it is even more important to communicate to the second child why they have not been selected as the primary representative, executor, trustee, etc.  Regardless of your reasons, the family will less likely to have a dispute if everyone knows their role.

Explain Their Role

There are many reasons why you selected the interested parties in your estate plan.  For example, you may have chosen your daughter to be your healthcare power of attorney because she’s a nurse.  Perhaps you’ve named your brother as an Executor and/or Trustee because you don’t want to show favoritism amongst your children.  Whatever the reason may be, it’s important to explain the role these individuals have because they may not want or understand the work, time, and burden involved.

Oftentimes, the people you have chosen do not want the responsibility.  The time involved, expertise, geographic location, or expense may deter your selected agent from wanting the responsibility. Moreover, many children don’t want to be put in a position of managing their sibling’s inheritance.   For this reason, it’s important to explain exactly what duties they have and make sure the interested parties in your plan are comfortable carrying out the job.

Helpful Tip: Clients often make the mistake of trying to make everything equal with their kids.  If you have multiple children, I would urge you to choose the child who would be the best fit for the job. Don’t make the mistake of naming one child as a healthcare agent and then another as your financial agent because you want to be “fair.”  Pick the right person for the job regardless of age, location, or status. You can always name the other child as a secondary contingent representative.

Create and Share an Account Summary

According to CNNMoney, nationally there are $53 billion dollars sitting in unclaimed funds. These are funds that people haven’t claimed because family members and heirs don’t know the money exists.  With everything going digital these days, it’s not surprising that heirs have zero knowledge of the accounts you own.  If you would like your family to receive your estate instead of the government, I strongly urge you to create an account summary listing all of your assets.  You do not need to indicate the dollar amounts because those values will change.  Nonetheless, the account summary should include: (1) name of account (e.g. Citizens Bank); (2) the owner (e.g. Baron Family Trust, Dan Baron); (3) account number, and (4) beneficiary, if any. Share this summary with those involved in administering your estate.

Storing Documents in the Right Place

Never, and I mean ever, should you store estate planning documents in a safety deposit box…   If your executor is not a joint account holder on the box then he/she will have to go through probate to have the box opened.  Moreover, if your healthcare and other agents need quick access to the document, they may not have access because banks are not opened 24/7.  Your estate plan should not contain any social security numbers or other information that would lead to identity theft.  Therefore, I would recommend storing your estate plan in a file cabinet or someplace that’s easy for your interested parties to gain access.  You will want to inform your family where to find your complete estate plan as opposed to leaving it a scavenger hunt.

Helpful Tip: Upload your healthcare POA, living will, and HIPAA with your primary care physician.  For example, Cleveland Clinic allows you to upload it through My Chart.


The average American moves 11.7 times in their lifetime (I Googled that). Multiply that by the number of interested parties you have in your estate plan. Changing an address or phone number is an easy task and one that doesn’t cost much, if any, to achieve. When you meet with your family during the holidays check to see that your plan reflects their current information.  If you have a prudent attorney, they should be reaching out to you annually to see if there are any changes.

Happy Holidays

From my family to yours I wish you a very Happy Holidays.  I am grateful for the questions and comments that have resulted from writing these monthly articles.  Please be safe and let’s all flourish in the New Year. 216-573-3723