Try To Have *That* Conversation With Your Family This Holiday Season

Rincker Law Food & Ag Law 4 Comments

You know the conservation that I am referring to– the one about estate and succession planning.  The conversation when you talk about all the What If’s.  Try to have that conversation this holiday season.  I know it might be an uncomfortable topic to bring up while you are “roasting chestnuts on the open fire” or drinking eggnog while watching Charlie Brown’s Christmas, but there is not a better time to have it since most of your family will be home for the holidays.

Here are some conversation starters:

1.  Does everyone have legally operative estate planning documents such as a Last Will and Testament, Power of Attorney, Health Proxy, Living Will, and (if appropriate) a Revocable Living Trust? A few things to think about:  (1) handwritten wills may not be valid in your state, and (2)  if an attorney did not draft the documents (e.g., a do-it-yourself computer program was used), please make sure the document(s) comply with the statutory requirements in your state (e.g., number of disinterested witnesses).

2.  Are there any changes that need made to the estate planning documents? I suggest that everyone revisit this issue annually to see if there are any changes that need made.

3.  Where does your family keep their signed original copies of these documents? I suggest that family members exchange scanned versions of these documents and keep either in a binder that is easily accessible or a jumpdrive on your keychain.  I really like the idea of keeping those documents on your keychain so they are readily accessible at the hospital.  It is important that family members have the contact information for the attorney(s) who drafted the documents.

4.  Are there any surprises in the Last Will and Testament that need discussed? For example, is the farm or family business going to be left solely to the children who are actively working on the farm?  It is better to talk about these issues as a family — openly and honestly.

5.  Poor succession planning is a serious threat to family farms.  Is your family prepared for the unexpected? To illustrate, if something happened to my parents tomorrow would my brother and I know how to pick up and manage the farm?  Will I move home to Illinois to help my brother run the cattle operation?  Another example– are there concerns about siblings that cannot get along to run a family business together?  It is better to discuss these issues now.

6.  Are there any issues that need to be discussed regarding retirement? Do your parents have enough in retirement or will they need assistance from their children?  Are those children willing to take on an equal financial burden or will the responsibility fall back on the highest wage earning child?

Have *that* conversation – as uncomfortable as it might be- perhaps with hot chocolate or warm apple cider.  I think you will be glad you did.  Families cannot be afraid to talk about these issues candidly.

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