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The Best Gift You Can Give Your Family

August 31, 2017

IN THE CATEGORY OF THINGS no one wants to talk about, illness and death rank right up there. But putting steps in place now to spell out your health care and estate planning wishes could be one of the best things you can do for yourself—and your family.

“You take care of your family all your life. Preplanning for the time when you’re no longer here, or able to articulate your wishes, is just an extension of that—and a very caring gift,” says Cynthia Hutchins, director of Financial Gerontology at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Here’s how to begin.



Start a “Big Picture” Conversation

As early as possible, meet with your loved ones, your financial advisor and estate attorney to begin translating your values into a long-term plan. Do you have a living will, which spells out your wishes to medical providers and your family? Is your estate structured in a way that will minimize the tax hit on your heirs? You might even want to think about planning your own funeral to take the pressure off your loved ones.

You take care of your family all your life. Preplanning for when you’re no longer here is an extension of that—and a very caring gift. —Cynthia Hutchins, director of Financial Gerontology


Assign Roles

Next, “think about what you would want to happen in different scenarios,” says Hutchins. This means naming those who’ll carry out your wishes, including the person you want to make health-care decisions for you if you can no longer do so, as well as an executor, trustee and guardian, if you have minor children. Be sure to check in with them to make sure they’re comfortable with any responsibilities you’ve given them.


Create a “Family Album”

“Your financial advisor can work with you to create a “family album,” a document that contains all the possible things your heirs may need to know about or get their hands on,” Hutchins says. That includes things like the title to your car, deed to your house, account numbers, online passwords, and contact information for everyone from attorneys to accountants.


The following useful resources, including a new and very comprehensive paper on “Aging and Your Wealth,” will help you get started having these important, but difficult conversations. The checklist “Loss, Legacy and Looking Ahead,” can provide your family with useful step-by-step financial direction—from dealing with probate issues to investment decisions. Share them today.

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