Family gatherings for the holidays are traditionally a time of celebration, fun, and family time. However, if you have a family member who is sick, incapacitated, or who has passed away, those gatherings can feel a lot less festive.
Below are five important topics to discuss with parents, grandparents or any person for whom you may be the responsible decision-maker in the future.
- Digital assets: An often-overlooked aspect of today’s estate planning is making sure that a trusted individual knows where to find your online information, such as your usernames, passwords, and your online accounts. If you are concerned about the security of your computer, store this information the old-fashion way by writing it on a piece of paper. In our office, we provide clients with a Digital Assets Memorandum, which is a handy tool for organizing and memorializing this type of information. It can be stored with your estate plan documents for easy access or maintained electronically. Your family will be grateful to have this information if you become incapacitated or when you pass away.
- Beneficiaries for Retirement Accounts: While you are sitting around the Thanksgiving table with your family, consider the topic of naming beneficiaries on assets such as retirement accounts. Naming beneficiaries on IRAs and employer retirement plans is easy to do and doing so will not only ensure that these assets pass to your intended beneficiaries but will avoid the need to probate these assets. If no one is named, you should name a beneficiary immediately. Make sure to re-evaluate your beneficiary designations on your retirement accounts and ensure those are still the people you wish to benefit. Seeing everyone at the table can be a great reminder of who you currently have as beneficiaries and if you want to make any changes.
- Health Care Documents: While everyone loves a good game of backyard football after the Thanksgiving meal, injuries can occur and this can lead to chaos and confusion if someone needs treatment. All adults should have a HIPAA Authorization and Health Care Proxy. Sharing copies of these documents with your appointed agents and storing them on your phone so they are readily available in an emergency situation (such as needing to rush someone to the hospital if they injure themselves on the football field for the post-Thanksgiving game), will ensure decisions can be made in an emergency.
- Tangible personal property: Believe it or not, the personal property items are often a source of conflict during estate settlement. Personal property includes items such as jewelry, antiques, art, and other ’stuff”. If you have something special, such as a carving knife for the turkey or a gravy boat that has been passed through your family for generations, you should designate the person to receive that item so there is no fighting over that family heirloom later on.
- Updating Your Estate Plan: The past couple of years have been pretty crazy and a lot of families have not had the opportunity to gather around the table and see one another for the holidays. This year, if you are able to spend Thanksgiving with your family, you should talk about whether your family members have estate plans in place and if so, how long it is since they have been updated. Now that the world is opening back up and we are able to come together, it is a great time to remind family members if they are your appointed fiduciaries and make sure they are still able to fill that role for you (and that they are still the right people for you).
Thanksgiving is a time to be grateful and to celebrate with loved ones. It is also the perfect time to talk to one another in-person about these topics not only because these are important but because they also might be easier to talk about over a pumpkin pie. If we can help you with your estate planning, please do not hesitate to contact our office and set up a time to speak with one of our attorneys.
Attorney Megan L. Bartholomew is an associate with the Dedham law firm of Samuel, Sayward & Baler LLC which focuses on advising its clients in the areas of estate planning, elder law, estate and trust settlement and probate. This article is not intended to provide legal advice or create or imply an attorney-client relationship. No information contained herein is a substitute for a personal consultation with an attorney. For more information visit our website at www.ssbllc.com or call 781/461-1020.
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