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Start an estate planning conversation in the holidays

Families in Pennsylvania understand that in a family with adult children, having everyone together in one place is difficult. When they are all together to celebrate an occasion, death and incapacity don't usually come up as topics of conversation. However, the holiday season is an opportunity not only for a get-together but also for a family to discuss important matters such as estate planning.

For elderly parents, talking about finances can be difficult, and initiating a conversation about death and incapacity is even tougher. Also, a parent may perceive a child who is asking about an estate as interested only in what and how much he or she is going to get. So having a financial conversation needs the right tone and timing.

Nevertheless, talking about an estate plan is a reassurance that parents have a plan for the transfer of wealth to their children. Parents do not have to disclose to their children all the information about their plan. The conversation should provide basic details about the estate, including retirement plans, bank accounts and digital assets.

The parents can also inform their children about existing wills or trusts, as well as who will be assigned as executor or trustee. Additionally, incapacity planning can advise the children about their parents' end-of-life wishes, funeral arrangements and the designation of a power of attorney. The goal is to avoid needless surprises.

Life is full of surprises, whether young or old. An estate plan should address the possibility of incapacity and the wishes of a person after his or her death. The plan helps in preserving the legacy and passing it on to the heirs. In contrast, not communicating the contents of the plan can be a cause of regret and grief. Given the numerous estate planning tools and vehicles that are available, it is always wise to seek help from family, friends and specialized professionals.

Source: The Sunday Dispatch, "Holiday Gatherings a Chance to Unwrap Family Money Secrets," Claudia Buck, Dec. 7, 2013

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