The holidays are a time for festivity and joy. Families who gather want to catch up and spend quality time together, talking about work, kids, favorite TV shows, and so on.
It might sound surprising then, but the holidays are also a great time to have some important financial conversations with your family members, especially if you live far away from one another and are spread out during the year. While the topic of whether you’re planning to see this season’s latest Star Wars movie might be more appealing in the short run, taking time to map out your family’s financial future will help you better enjoy many more holidays to come.
Here are six topics to discuss that can leave everyone in your family feeling better prepared for the future.
- Where do you keep important documents?
This is a straightforward topic from which the rest of your conversations can spring. Knowing where important documents are kept can help keep you organized and on-task in the event of a future emergency.
Important documents can include wills, documents estate plans such as trusts, life insurance policies, living wills, power-of-attorney, and so on.
Also, consider discussing computer passwords if they will be required to access some of this necessary information.
- Do you have a properly executed will?
A properly executed will means that it was written when the testator (the person making the will) had the proper mental capacity and that he or she signed it in the presence of two witnesses who also signed it. A will allows a testator to direct how his or her assets will be divided after death. Alternatively, if someone dies without leaving a properly executed will (intestate), that person’s assets will be divided according to the laws of the state in which the person lived, which may significantly differ from the decedent’s intentions.
- Is your life insurance up-to-date?
Life insurance can help families cover out-of-pocket costs for end-of-life care and funeral expenses. But life insurance policies differ from one another. A key consideration is whether your family member has a term or whole life policy. Just like it sounds, a whole life policy lasts for the entire life of the insured, whereas a term policy lasts for only the limited duration of time specified in the policy. Make sure that a term policy is still in effect.
Additionally, regardless of which policy your family member may have, consider whether the beneficiary is up-to-date. Perhaps your family member initially named another relative as a beneficiary who is no longer alive, or with whom the relationship has changed.
- What would you want done if you suffered a medical emergency?
This may be the most difficult topic for people to address, so sensitivity is important when discussing medical emergencies or end-of-life questions. To help frame the conversation, make it a discussion about the oldest generation’s wishes for the future instead of a morbid dialogue about the end of life.
Consider working with older family members to establish advance directives so that hospitals and doctors will be cognizant of their wishes. These include a living will, designation of a proxy with durable power-of-attorney, or a medical directive arrived at with a physician. Issues to consider when making these decisions include the choice between prolonging life or improving the quality of life over a shorter time span, providing care or withdrawing it, activating life support or not, and so on.
However, these discussions may not always be appropriate. According to April Masini, an etiquette and relationship expert, it is sometimes best to steer clear of these conversations altogether. She says that, “If someone in the family has a terminal illness or is the partner of someone with a terminal illness, it’s inappropriate to discuss wills, estate plans and anything that has to do with death and money. The topic is too raw and should be conducted very privately and with specific sensitivity.”
- What are your funeral wishes?
Knowing your family members’ funeral wishes can help you create a financial plan to cover the expenses, as funerals are pricey. Knowing them in advance can also help you shop around ahead of time, instead of being forced to pay more when you’re grieving and time is of the essence once a family member has passed. Of course, even more importantly, discussing funeral wishes in advance will help you say goodbye to your family member with respect and dignity while honoring his or her wishes.