Not that this is unique, but my family and I are big fans of Christmas and the holiday season. I grew up in a home where believing in Santa Claus was strongly encouraged – which I did for many years despite my naysaying friends and classmates.
Christmas music started November 1st and continued through New Year’s. Every holiday season was magical, to the point where even as a young adult living at home, I refused to help my parents wrap presents for my younger siblings because I didn’t want to lose that Christmas magic.
Of course, when I became a parent Christmas and the holiday season took on a whole new kind of magic. Even now, I agonize over waiting until Christmas morning for Wendy and the children to open their presents, and delight in organizing the gifts in the family room on Christmas Eve.
Last year, I lost both of my parents unexpectedly just before the start of the holiday season. My siblings and I were grateful that Mom and Dad had the foresight to give us one of the most valuable gifts they could give – clarity regarding their wishes and no court proceedings.
Decades before they passed, Mom and Dad created a living trust that clearly expressed their wishes for the division of assets. Their trust was up to date, having been amended to comply with changes in the law and circumstances throughout the years, including just a couple years before.
Their trust was properly funded with their financial accounts and other assets, which kept us out of probate. They left detailed instructions for how their personal items, valuables, and collections were to be divided up. They left Letters of Instruction with explanations for their decisions as well as written guidance on important matters.
Dad also left very detailed instructions for memorial services and burial. This often-neglected aspect of estate planning turned out to be very helpful in Dad’s case. Mom had not written down her wishes, so we were left to try to remember the preferences she had communicated over the years. My siblings and I were quite surprised at how much more difficult it was for us to come to a consensus on Mom’s memorial services than it was for Dad’s, and wished she had also left written instructions.
Despite our loss, my siblings and I and our families were able to carry on Mom and Dad’s traditions and enjoy the holidays together, free of drama and conflict. With 10 children and their children’s 10 spouses, that’s no small achievement!
As you’re enjoying time with your family over the holidays, consider giving yourself the gift of peace of mind and your loved ones the gift of staying out of court and preserving family harmony if something happens to you. Start the new year off right – call us and schedule your complimentary consultation with one of our estate attorneys!