This is an excerpt from Chapter 7 of Estate Planning Through Family Meetings (without breaking up the family) by Lynne Butler. Ms. Butler is a lawyer and frequent public speaker who has written three books about estate planning.
Why Hold a Family Meeting?
This chapter will give you some solid ideas about what kind of topics can and should be covered in a family meeting. Even if you may already be convinced that a family meeting is a good idea, you just might find out by reading this chapter that you can accomplish a lot more than you thought possible if your meeting is properly organized. This chapter will help you get the most out of a meeting.
1. Ensure That Your Parent's Wishes are Known, Understood, and Respected
A family meeting can be held to talk about anything that affects the whole family or a significant number of its members. We will concentrate on discussing family meetings that are held to talk about estate planning and related issues such as incapacity and finances.
The main reason for estate planning in general is to make a person's wishes known to his or her family members so that the person's wishes are carried out after his or her death. During a family meeting, those wishes can be expressed and documented. It is a chance for your parent to tell the family what he or she wants and to answer questions about plans to make sure that everyone understands the goals and the plans. He or she can get feedback if wanted, and can find out more information from children that might help finalize the wishes.
During a family meeting, there is an opportunity for plans that are only in the idea stage to be developed with the help of the family members. ...
2. Document the Wishes Properly and Legally
Once all of the plans have been decided and worked out in some detail, it is essential that they be properly documented. Otherwise it may be impossible for the plans to be carried out. The documents that everyone must have in place include an up-to-date will that appoints an executor and directs a distribution of assets after death. It is also absolutely essential to prepare documents that will support an individual who is still alive but who is suffering from physical deterioration or mental incapacity.
An enduring power of attorney (also called continuing power of attorney, durable power of attorney, or power of attorney for property, depending on where you live) will give a person the legal authority to deal with finances, property, taxes, assets, and debts on behalf of the aging parents. The person who will be put in charge is chosen by the parents and named in the document. This type of power of attorney is specially designed to be made ahead of time while a person is mentally healthy, and then brought into use at a later time when the person loses mental capacity.
To make decisions about health care, personal care, medical procedures, organ donation, and end-of-life issues, the aging person should have a health-care directive (also called advance directive, personal directive, power of attorney for health care, or health-care proxy). This document is not the same as a living will because it specifically names someone to be the decision maker and spokesperson for the aging person.
As with an enduring power of attorney, your parent will have the opportunity to pick someone he or she trusts as his or her representative. That person is named in the document and will be expected to step in and make decisions should your parent lose the ability to make personal and health decisions.
Whether or not your parent wants to use a lawyer to prepare documents will depend on a number of factors, including availability of lawyers and the cost. Some people can afford lawyers and have access to them but choose to take care of their own documents, as that is a personal choice. This is fine as long as your parent's affairs are as simple as he or she thinks they are. ...
3. Ease Anxieties