Perhaps the hardest part of putting together an estate plan is deciding on who the best people would be to carry out all the important tasks that you normally handle on a day-to-day basis if you suddenly are no longer able to do them yourself. It’s such a personal decision, and so unique to each individual. I can advise people on their legal options. But determining whether someone who holds different religious beliefs from yours would make a good guardian for your children, or who should make decisions about how long to keep you on a respirator, if that becomes necessary, can be harder matters on which to advise.

These are huge responsibilities. From what I’ve seen, people usually have, at most, one obvious option, usually a sibling. But in most situations, I recommend having at least one backup alternative. Maybe two. Getting that far is a struggle for most.

Christmas card list as a source of ideas

Despite the highly personal nature of these decisions, I view it as part of my job to help my clients put together the best list possible of people who will be able to take on their responsibilities for them, if needed. But speaking from personal perspective, as someone who has four kids and would leave behind an extremely challenging workload for even the most capable people in my life, I can’t deny that creating this list can be difficult. It can also be the source of difficult, sometimes contentious, discussions between people who have to make these decisions together.

 

My wife and I have been going through this exercise for ourselves again recently, and it has reminded me how challenging it can be just to come up with names of people who might be up for the tasks. But as I was looking over my family’s Christmas card list, and all the Christmas cards we have received this year, it occurred to me how the holidays provide the perfect time to remind yourself of all the people you care about and who care about you, and who might be able to help you out with the duties listed above.

Is everyone who sends you a Christmas card going to be a plausible option to serve as guardian for your kids? No, definitely not. There are a lot of factors to consider when choosing a person to fulfill each of these challenging and highly personal tasks, and in the end, if your list is long, it may be an indication that you’re not being selective enough. But the best way to start is with the widest net possible, and then narrow it down from there. The people you see most often are likely to be the first people to come to mind. In my experience, however, those people may not turn out not to be the choice, if you are rigorous about how you make the decision.

If I asked you to name your best options on the spot, you might forget the cousin who lives in another state, or the college buddy that you only get to see once or twice a year. But these people might be great options, if you can remember to consider them as possibilities. Starting this process with the stack of Christmas cards you have been recently receiving will almost certainly cause you to consider people you might not have otherwise remembered to include.

Happy holidays

I hope that your holiday season is a joyous one, and that you get the time to reconnect with and reflect upon the people who are most important to you. As the new year approaches, I encourage you to keep those people in mind and consider whether it is time to create or update an actionable plan for ensuring the financial and emotional security of the most important people in your life. If you need help choosing a guardian for your kids, please go here and request my “Estate Planning for Parents” guide. It includes access to an interactive electronic worksheet that I have used with my clients to help them make the right choice.

Until 2014…