Using the Holiday Season to Discuss a Difficult Subject
by Dan A. Baron, Baron Law LLC
2022 is almost over. It’s been almost three years since the pandemic started and things are getting back to normal. Well, almost too normal as the Browns have yet another losing season and a number of abysmal performances on Sunday. …Throughout these strange times, we still come together on the holidays to celebrate life and spend time together as a family. As the New Year approaches, use the time you have together to discuss these very important topics. Additionally, implement the practical suggestions outlined below into your personal estate plan.
Communicate your project
In addition to writing a complete estate plan, it is essential that you have communicated your intentions to the people who will represent and implement your plan. These people are usually family members or friends whom you have chosen to be your representatives in the event of your death or incapacity (for example, executor, trustee, financial and medical power of attorney). You chose these people out of trust and loyalty, but you must not keep 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 I meet wants their family, especially their children, to refrain from fighting after their death. When tragedy strikes, your family would have preferred to know your wishes in advance, expressed in person from your mouth, rather than having them read out on a piece of paper. Often your decision to choose one child over another can be hurtful to the subordinate child. However, it is even more important to communicate to the second child why he was not chosen as the main representative, executor, trustee, etc. Whatever your reasoning, the family will be less likely to have a dispute if everyone knows their role.
Explain their role
There are many reasons why you selected interested parties in your estate plan. For example, you may have chosen your daughter as your health care proxy because she is a nurse. Maybe you named your brother as executor and/or trustee because you don’t want to show favoritism among your children. Whatever the reason, it is important to explain the role of these people, as they may not want or understand the work, time and burden involved.
Often the people you have chosen don’t want to take responsibility. The time involved, expertise, geographic location, or expense may deter your selected agent from wanting to take on the responsibility. Also, many children don’t want to be put in the position of managing their sibling’s inheritance. For this reason, it’s important to explain exactly what their functions are and to make sure the parties involved in your plan are comfortable doing the work.
Helpful Hint: Clients often make the mistake of trying to make everything equal with their children. If you have several children, I strongly advise you to choose the child who would be the best fit for the position. Don’t make the mistake of appointing one child as your health care agent and then another as your financial agent because you want to be “fair”. Choose the right person for the job, regardless of age, location or status. You can still name the other child as the secondary contingent representative.
Create and share an account summary
According to CNNMoney, nationally there is $53 billion in unclaimed funds. These are funds that people have not claimed because family members and heirs do not know the money exists. With everything going digital these days, it’s no surprise that heirs have no knowledge of the accounts you own. If you want your family to receive your estate instead of the government, I strongly urge you to create a summary account listing all of your assets. You do not need to enter dollar amounts, as these values will change. However, the account summary should include: the name of the account (eg Citizens Bank); the owner (for example Baron Family Trust or Dan Baron); account number; and beneficiary, if applicable. Share this summary with those involved in administering your estate.
Store documents in the right place
Never, and I mean never, should you keep estate planning documents in a safe. If your executor is not a joint account holder on the box, they will need to go through probate to have the box opened. Also, if your health workers and other agents need quick access to the document, they may not have access to it because the banks are not open 24/7. Your estate plan should not contain social security numbers or other information that could lead to identity theft. Therefore, I recommend that you keep your estate plan in a binder or somewhere easily accessible to your interested parties. You’ll want to let your family know where to find your complete estate plan instead of leaving them a treasure hunt.
Helpful Tip: Upload your Health Care Power of Attorney, Living Will, and HIPAA from your primary care physician. For example, Cleveland Clinic lets you download it through My Chart.
The average American moves 11.7 times in their lifetime (google 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 that costs little, if anything, to do. When you meet your family over the holidays, check that your plan reflects their current information. If you have a careful lawyer, he should contact you every year to see if there are any changes.
From my family to yours, I wish you 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 prosper in the new year. Dan@baronlawcleveland.com 216-573-3723.
Baron Law LLC
Crowne Center, Suite #600
5005 Rockside Road
Independence, Ohio 44131
The opinions and statements expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of ScripType Publishing.