California holidays should include discussions about estate planning

As the end of the year approaches, many Californians are busy planning family gatherings and festivities. While the balmy winter weather in Orange County does not lend itself to many snowball fights in the backyard, family get-togethers are often filled with fun, feasting and close relatives.

The season also provides an excellent opportunity to have important family talks. Estate planning is not a very popular topic at family events but it may be the most important discussion your family has this year.

According to the Huffington Post, a whopping 70 percent of family wealth transfers between generations fail. Either through mismanagement, poor planning or errors in documentation, too many intended beneficiaries fail to receive what their parents, grandparents or other loved ones desire their heirs to have after they are gone. No matter how large or small your estate, failure to establish a formal estate plan can have devastating effects on your family.

If you do not have any estate plan or have not discussed your plan with your immediate family, you may wish to have that discussion soon. It is important to let your family members know your wishes and desires, and to prepare them for what is to come.

Preparing family

Many parents avoid discussing end-of-life matters in an attempt to keep times with family fun. Unfortunately, avoiding or believing these difficult conversations are best set for "someday" can create unnecessary conflict. Disagreements between family members commonly occur during the probate process, after the untimely death of a loved one. In order to avert a possible family feud, schedule a family meeting before the year ends and make use of these tips:

  • Determine whom you want to attend: While it may be easy to choose whom you are inviting to Christmas dinner, it may not be so easy to decide who family members are for estate planning purposes. Divorces and remarriages can blur the lines between legal heirs and those whom you consider "family."
  • Set an agenda: Decide ahead of time and write down what you plan to discuss with your chosen attendees at the family meeting. Chose a quiet, private area for the meeting and stay calm if the discussion gets heated or feelings are hurt. It may help to have a trusted advisor present to explain your intentions if you are not comfortable doing so yourself.
  • Decide who gets certain heirlooms: Have an open discussion about who wants particular items that are special to you or to that individual. Try to keep the future division of personal items fair as much as possible and explain your reasons for certain decisions.
  • Discuss special needs: If a child or another family member has special needs, a trust, guardianship or conservatorship may be advisable. These legal tools can be quite helpful when tending to the long-term needs of a loved one who is unable to take care of his or her own physical, emotional or financial needs. Your family may have questions about these special preparations.

Formalize your estate plan

Not only should your family know your wishes, it is vitally important to commit your intentions to writing. An experienced estate planning lawyer can set up your estate plan as well as help you express your desires to your family. Consult a California attorney who is knowledgeable about probate, elder law, trust administration and other matters of estate planning.