How the holidays are perfect for estate planning

Year after year, people get told to avoid contentious topics that can upset family members during the holidays. This sometimes includes money talks, but financial experts will greatly disagree with such tactics.

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Suzanne Wheeler, a managing director of Mariner Wealth Advisors, is one money guru that believes holiday gatherings are a perfect time to pass over the turkey and an estate plan. Here are a few takeaways Wheeler shared with FOX Business on how to master this challenging conversation without killing the festive spirit.

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According to Wheeler, important financial discussions have been avoided because it’s a behavior that’s observed from previous generations. Thus, “it's still an area that people shy away from.”

Unfortunately, the consequence of doing this tends to throw households into disarray if a plan hasn’t been put in place for an unexpected passing or similar life event.

“When your loved ones are grieving your death, you don't want them to have to worry about the business part of death,” Wheeler told FOX Business.

Though, she advises that anyone leading the conversation shouldn’t present the topic as doom and gloom because no one likes a joy killer during the holidays.

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“I think you can change the subject about what you know the person that has contributed during their life as far as it may not have anything to do with money or things that they can pass on,” Wheeler explained.

Other legacy goals can be shared during this talk as well whether it be charitable contributions or recorded autobiographies. It’s also an opportunity to get any questions answered before anything catastrophic happens. In Wheeler’s line of work, it’s not uncommon for money or possessions to be divided among descendants, but at times there aren’t detailed explanations on why a person may have left more for one family member over another. Orchestrating these discussions early on can help to uncover the reasoning behind an estate plan.

“With good communication, you don't have to worry about that emotional part of it when grief is already setting in,” Wheeler said.

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Outside of potential inheritances, the person who is creating the estate plan will be able to assign a family member to carry out their wishes when the time comes so those age-old debates about burials and cremation can be avoided.

On the brighter side, talking about estate plans during the holidays will provide an opportunity to discuss the financial matters of familial events that are commonly announced during this time, including engagements, weddings, pregnancies and business startups. Children shouldn’t be excluded from these talks, according to Wheeler, because it teaches valuable financial literacy.

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For some clients with a surplus of assets like paintings and chinaware, Wheeler has seen inheritance talks turn into a lighthearted game. In one instance, a family drew numbers from a basket and each person got to pick an item they’d like to receive depending on the number on their ticket.

Wheeler noted that some individuals were able to take home their chosen item that same day because her client was tired of holding on to so much.

“It gave the person that owned the possession great joy to see who got what and that everyone got something that they really wanted,” Wheeler shared.

When it comes down to who should get an estate plan, Wheeler stressed that income isn’t a determining factor.

“I think everybody should have a plan because if they don't have a plan, the state will have a plan for them,” Wheeler explained.

“Many times people say, ‘Oh, I don't need that because I don't have any money.’ Well, you have your last paycheck, you have whatever's in your checking account. Those are things that should be discussed along with any guardianship if you have a baby because you want to determine who's going to take care of your child, not the court system. And so you want to make sure that those are in place.”

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She continued, “And that's not something that's set in stone. You can change it at any time, but you want to revisit it, make sure it's still who you want. You just need to have that document so you don't have your child going with Uncle Henry when that would've been the last person you wanted them to be with.”