Across the country in December, families will be coming together for the holidays. Sometimes the holidays are one of the few times of year that family members see each other. They eat, share stories, and laugh together. Of course, there may be a few family squabbles, but hopefully no mash-potato flinging. Or will there be? Overall, the holidays are rare opportunities for family members to have face-to-face conversations. One critical conversation is talking about estate planning — what happens legally when a loved one passes away.
As confirmed by the Washington Post this week, the stories in Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! are great conversation starters. Of course you could buy the book, but here are some free tips you can use right away.
What questions will these tips help you answer?
What will happen once mom and dad pass away?
Have they done their will or trust? Is it updated? Where is it?
What professionals do they work with?
Where are the documents located?
The celebrity stories in “Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights!” can help you translate the estate planning talk into a fun and entertaining discussion. Really! Here are some easy-to-use tips and conversation starters taken from the stories in the book.
Tip #1 — Bring the celebrities home for the holidays.
If your family member (mom, dad, sister, aunt, grandma) is reluctant to talk about wills and trusts, begin by sharing some stories about celebrity estate planning. Start with a story about Ray Charles. He sat his entire family down (which included 12 kids from 9 different mothers!) and discussed what he planned for his estate after his passing. Encourage your loved ones to talk to each other like Ray Charles. Turn the uncomfortable topic of wills and trusts into something entertaining!
Tip # 2 — Find out if your loved ones have done their estate planning.
So now you’ve begun the conversation with your family by describing what Ray Charles did, the next question is: did your loved ones prepare a will or trust yet? Find out! Whether we’re 20 or 92 years old, no one is promised tomorrow. Share the case of Sonny Bono. He was 62 years old when he unexpectedly passed away in a skiing accident. Sonny did not have a will or a trust! His widow endured lots of complications because of Sonny’s lack of planning. So if your loved ones haven’t done their estate planning, encourage them to make sure to do so.
Tip #3 — Confirm that they have finished what they started.
Maybe you’ve gotten through the first two hurdles, and your family members say, “don’t worry…we’ve taken care of everything”. Are they sure that they dotted their “i”s and crossed their “t”s? Share the stories of Heath Ledger who failed to update his will after his daughter was born, and Michael Jackson who caused his family unnecessary trips to the courthouse because he did not properly “fund” his trust. If your loved ones have a will or trust, has it been updated in the recently? Have they transferred their assets into their trust? It’s not enough to just “do” the documents, they need to be done the right way and updated with new laws and life changes.
Tip #4 — Verify that the attorney is a specialist.
“Yes,” your loved ones respond, “we just saw our attorney and updated everything.” Okay… now we’re getting somewhere, but that doesn’t end the conversation. Does their attorney specialize in estate planning? If not, going to the attorney to update the documents may not be enough. Does the attorney use “one size fits all” forms, or customize the documents to your loved one’s needs? Share the tips on how to make sure that you have a good attorney from “Trial & Heirs” to give your family peace of mind. Also, make sure that you have the name of the attorney and other professionals in the event that your loved ones unexpectedly pass away.
Tip #5 — Establish the location of the documents.
You’ve almost conquered the list! You’ve gotten through the first four tips, but where in the world are the documents located? Your loved ones have done their documents, updated them, and worked with a specialist, but that doesn’t do the family any good if you cannot find them! Share the story of Florence Griffith Joyner aka Flo-Jo. Her original estate planning documents were never located and as a result it cost her family a lot of time, money, grief and uncertainty. Make sure that your loved ones tell you where those critical documents are located and that the trustee or executor can access them. There’s no point in hiding the will or trust so well that no one can find them or worse, putting them in a safe deposit box that no one can get into!
Alright, the holidays are around the corner and now you’re armed with some tips on the conversation that you really need to have with your family this holiday season. Remember “Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights!” has these stories to start the conversation and so many more!
Written by: Danielle B. Mayoras, co-author of “Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights!” and co-founder and shareholder of The Center for Elder Law, dedicated her legal career to teaching professionals, businesses and the general public about elder law, special needs planning , and general estate planning. Danielle is a renowned attorney and Credentialed Professional Gerontologist, educating through speaking engagements, print, and broadcast media across the United States.