Holiday Traditions in This Year of Change

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Lauren Pitman

Author, Attorney

We were all hopeful that by the holidays, we’d be able to gather safely and celebrate a difficult year behind us.

As we get closer to Christmas, it’s clear that we’re not out of the woods yet in terms of COVID-19, and holiday traditions that involve getting together will have to be postponed until next year. It’s not easy to imagine the holidays without our favorite people and celebrations.

While I remain hopeful that those celebrations are again in the future for all of us, this year, we’re all having to take a different approach. Some of us are scaling back on all the holiday hustle and bustle, staying out of stores and away from shopping malls. How can we focus on making meaning this holiday season—rather than giving more gifts?

Giving a planning tool as a gift.

If you have a loved one who hasn’t made an estate plan—perhaps a parent, for example, who is starting to show signs of aging—giving them a planning toolkit is a great way to start. The Side by Side Planner actually started when I realized that I didn’t have any planning information for my own in-laws. I didn’t know what their wishes were, or how I would help them achieve those wishes. Side by Side Planner is a great start.

There are plenty of planning tools, but Side by Side Planner is the only one created by an attorney with almost twenty years of estate planning experience, designed to mimic an actual appointment with a real-life attorney. It’s a place to express values, wishes, family dynamics. It’s a place to preserve the things you love about your family. Giving a planning tool as a gift shows the people in your life that you truly love them and want to support them even after they are gone.

Complete your own planning tool.

While it might not be an appropriate gift to put under the tree, giving your loved ones your completed Side by Side Planner is also a gift. The Planner is full of the important information they would need an emergency, all compiled in one place. In the event of emergency, you’ve provided them with an invaluable, stress-saving tool that can help your loved ones make clear decisions that prioritize your well-being, and their own.

When you take a couple of hours out of your busy life to make a plan, you give your loved ones an amazing gift by taking the guesswork out of your intentions. It saves them time and money, and it also creates a more peaceful dynamic for everyone.

Estate planning is a gift you give yourself.

Finally, I often say that estate planning is a gift you give yourself. It’s ultimately a wellness tool that helps you find peace of mind. Knowing that you’ve provided for your minor children—or that you won’t be left on life support for longer than you wish—or that you’ve preserved a special tradition in your estate plan is a relief.

Traditions are deeply entwined with estate planning because traditions represent values. When I work with clients with strong family traditions, I think about the ways that an estate plan can actually help to preserve harmony and to continue those traditions in a way that isn’t burdensome to the family but is a joyful remembrance.

Some of my clients designate funds in their estate plans to ensure that the tradition will continue. For example, if a family always takes a summer vacation to Maine each year, and the Testator (will-writer) believes this is important to continue, an attorney can craft this wish into the will. For parents of minor children, it’s important to express these values in writing for the child’s potential guardian, to ensure that the children can travel to a summer family reunion or a holiday celebration.

These are all gifts that you give to your family—but in the meantime, you get to live with knowing you’ve done everything you can to care for your loved ones if something happened to you.

This holiday season, traditions look different. Maybe you can create a new family tradition where you keep each other up-to-date on your emergency documents, where they’re kept, and what they say. It might not be as festive as a favorite recipe for mulled wine or stringing up popcorn and cranberries, but it truly shows how much you care. Not sure where to start? Our Free Checklist is a great jumping-off point to making these uncomfortable decisions.

Learn more about the Side by Side Planner here.

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Disclaimer: The information contained in this article should not be considered tax or legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently and the information in this article may not reflect your own state's laws or the most recent changes in state or federal law. For current tax and legal advice, please consult with an accountant or attorney licensed to practice in your state.
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