By Jeff Wagoner, W M Law President
Well, it’s the holidays, and likely be spending time with your family (for better or for worse!). Oftentimes, the discussion will center around the kids in the family, the local sports teams and maybe even a little bit of politics. You might even discuss health issues and concerns, especially regarding the senior members of your family. Although we like to think happy thoughts during the holidays, I would suggest that spend at least a few minutes with your family members discussing your estate plan and your desires for healthcare decisions in the event you aren’t able to make them for yourself. It doesn’t have to be a downer and it doesn’t have to bring tears to everyone’s eyes. But, it can provide a great deal of relief and call into mind the more important things in life, especially at a time when everyone is busy with the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.
If you have an estate plan, you likely have made designations of certain family members who you want to make decisions for you in the event that you cannot. Generally, these decisions take two forms: financial or property decisions and then healthcare decisions. Sometimes, people select the same person to make both types of decisions for them. More often, my clients choose different people for these decisions. After all, the level-headed person who can make great financial decisions might not be the most compassionate person when it comes to healthcare decisions. Whomever you choose to make healthcare decisions for you, grab that person at some point over the holidays, along with your favorite beverage and take a few minutes to discuss what you want them to consider if they are faced with a healthcare decision for you in the coming year. I recently had a situation where a family friend had decided to remove a family member from life support because that person had what the doctors determined was a 20% chance of recovery. To the decision maker, that meant an 80% chance that the person would never recover and just continue to suffer. But, for me personally, if I’ve got a 20% chance to recover, then I still want to give it the ol’ college try. Maybe if the chance of recovery was down around 5%, then I’d be OK with taking me off life support. But, that doesn’t mean I’m right – that is a decision that everyone needs to make for themselves. And I’d strongly recommend that you visit with that healthcare decision maker to let him or her know your wishes.
While you are at it, you should grab that financial/property decision maker and just update him or her on your current finances and property. You don’t need to go into great detail, but let him or her know just in general where you’re at and maybe even jot down a few notes for them. You might say something as basic as: “If something happens to me, just know that we’ve got a small condo in Miami that we keep rented out through ABC Property Management. Most of my money is in retirement accounts at Edward Jones and my adviser there is Bill Meyer. I’ve got a safe deposit bank at Bank of America down the street from my house and I keep my estate planning portfolio in it. Oh, and I’ve got a storage unit filled with stuff at the U-Stor-It over in Smallville. Remember that ski boat we had? Well, I sold it last spring.” Now, you should have much more detailed notes in your estate planning portfolio to assist that person, but just taking a couple of minutes to chat about the “big picture” is time well spent.