Estate Planning | Using the Holidays to Plan for the Future

Anna GundersonBy Attorney Anna Gunderson (Bio) (E-mail)

Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. It’s the time of year when we gather together with our families. During our celebrations, we often reminisce about the past and speculate about what the futures holds.  It’s a time when we as a family have difficult conversations about Mom and Dad and their needs as they age.  This conversation isn’t always fun, but it's important.  Decision-making in anticipation of decline and death is emotionally charged—but these conversations are critical because they can impact a parent's legacy and the family relationships that will endure long after a parent has passed away.

Difficult Conversations

Having this conversation as a family is invaluable so everyone hears the same information about a parent's desires. When you are with your aging loved ones this holiday season, here are a few things to consider:

  • Where do your parents want their money and belongings to go when they die?
  • Do parents want to contribute to a grandchild's college education?
  • Is there a difficult topic relating to property ownership that could lead to irreconcilable family tension if a parent dies without a clear plan or expression of intent?
  • Could a trust help the family to preserve assets or avoid probate proceedings?

An effective estate plan can answer these questions.  A will or trust can enable parents to make a written list of who gets the silver, china, jewelry, firearms and even the family heirloom Bible. Many methods also allow for the transfer real estate, such as a house or cabin, outside of formal court proceedings (called "probate").

Helpful Documents to Use Now

Other estate planning documents can also provide for better quality of life and decision-making during a parent's lifetime.  For example, a health care directive selects an individual who can make health care decisions if a parent can’t speak for themselves. It also outlines their wishes for the "when" and "how" of healthcare, and provides the opportunity to specify whether they wish to be an organ donor or to be buried or cremated (with their ashes spread on a mountaintop in Colorado). A health care directive is an excellent catalyst for conversations about what your parents want after they pass.  Their answers may surprise you—so it’s good to have these conversations now.

For parents who need help paying bills, the holidays are an excellent time to schedule meetings for consider a power of attorney.  Parents can use these holiday visits to add authorized signers to their bank accounts.  A properly drafted power of attorney allows the authorized person to sign their name to anything a parent would be able to sign. These documents can be a powerful tool in caring for parents as they age. If a parent’s ability to manage finances has deteriorated to the point of incapacity, an estate planning attorney can also assist with the process of determining whether a guardianship or conservatorship would be in a parent's best interests.

About Dougherty Molenda

Dougherty Molenda is a full-service estate planning law firm conveniently located in Apple Valley, Minnesota. Parking is free and convenient.  For more information about the estate planning services provided by the firm, please call Anna at 952-953-8830, contact us online or browse our Estate Planning Pages to learn more.