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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Fwd: Use the holidays to broach estate planning

Turn an awkward subject into an engaging conversation

Talking about money with family is never easy, but according to local authors and legacy expert attorneys Danielle Mayoras and Andrew Mayoras, the holidays are the perfect time to get the estate-planning conversation rolling.  It could protect your family from a great deal of heartbreak – not to mention expensive courtroom battles – to artfully broach the subject of wills and trusts as you dig into the turkey, pass the latkes or carve that ham during a holiday meal.

The Mayorases, who live in West Bloomfield and are partners at Barron, Rosenberg, Mayoras & Mayoras, P.C., in Troy, wrote Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! as a way to use celebrity cases to highlight the missteps and mishaps to avoid when planning for one's heirs.  The husband-and-wife team has been featured by the Washington Post, LA Times, Rachael Ray Show and, among others.

"Overall, the holidays are rare opportunities for family members to have face-to-face conversations. One critical conversation is talking about estate planning — what happens legally when a loved one passes away," explains Danielle Mayoras.

And, as Andrew Mayoras adds: "Open and frank conversation can be a good way to avoid a family fight before it begins." 

But how do you get that somewhat-touchy conversation started? The co-authors provide five great tips for introducing the subject seamlessly:

·        Bring the celebrities home for the holidays. If your family member (mom, dad, sister, aunt, grandma) is reluctant to talk about wills and trusts, begin by sharing some stories about celebrity estate planning.  Start with the case of Ray Charles.  He sat his entire family down (which included 12 kids from 9 different mothers!) and discussed what he planned for his estate after his passing. 

·        Find out if your loved ones have done their estate planning. You've begun the conversation with your family by describing what Ray Charles did, so the next question is:  has your loved ones prepared a will or trust yet?  Find out!  Whether you're 29 or 92 years old, no one is promised tomorrow.  Sonny Bono was just 62 years old when he unexpectedly perished in a skiing accident, without a will or a trust.  His widow endured lots of complications because of Sonny's lack of planning.

·        Confirm they have finished what they started. Maybe you've gotten through the first two hurdles, and your family members say, "Don't worry.  We've taken care of everything."  Are they positive they've done their due diligence?  Share the stories of Heath Ledger, who failed to update his will after his daughter was born, and Michael Jackson, who caused his family unnecessary trips to the courthouse because he did not properly fund his trust. If your loved ones have a will or trust, has it been updated recently?  Have they transferred their assets into their trust?  It's not enough to just do the documents, they need to be done the right way and updated with new laws and life changes.
·        Verify that the attorney is a specialist. "Yes," your loved ones respond, "we just saw our attorney and updated everything."  But does their attorney specialize in estate planning?  If not, going to the attorney to update the documents may not be enough.  Does the attorney use one-size-fits-all forms, or customize the documents to your loved one's needs?  You can find tips on how to make sure that you have a good attorney in Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights!  to give your family peace of mind.  Also, make sure that you have the name of the attorney and other professionals in the event that a loved one unexpectedly passes away.
·        Establish the location of the documents. It doesn't do the family any good if after all the ground work is completed, you cannot find the crucial documents!  Share the story of Olympian Florence Griffith Joyner (aka Flo-Jo).  Her original estate planning documents were never located, costing her family a lot of time, money, grief and uncertainty.  Make sure that your loved ones tell you where those critical documents are located and that the trustee or executor can access them.  There's no point in hiding the will or trust so well that no one can find them, or putting them in a safe deposit box that no one can get into!

To get more tips on how to start the conversation, visit



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