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Estate Planning Talk at the Thanksgiving Table

Is there anything more heartwarming than the tradition of a turkey being pardoned by the president before Thanksgiving? Of course not. The inalienable rights of poultry must be preserved at all cost.

But what about the yams. Who will speak up for them? Don’t yams deserve a pardon too? Or a suspended sentence, at least?

These are some of my Thanksgiving thoughts while I wait for a giant roasted bird to be paraded through the kitchen and settled on the dining room table. Turkey Day is a time for reflection (and arranging food on your plate that strikes the perfect balance between proteins, starches and canned cranberry sauce). Memories of past feasts blend with the warmth of present-day family camaraderie.

You may have noticed that some family members have a tendency to retreat into their phones when the conversation lags. Hiding the phone in the turkey, calling it and watching your loved one panic as the ringtone reverberates in the stuffing is not recommended. Talking about estate planning readiness is a much better option – and less sticky.

So, how do you start a conversation about estate planning? Do what comes easy… Talk about yourself. If you are organized and have completed your core estate planning documents (Trust, Power of Attorney, Health Care Proxy, Living Will and Last Will & Testament) then you are a force of change, stressing the importance of planning and nudging family members in the right direction.

If you are a disorganized procrastinator and disclose that fact in your estate planning commentary, you may find that others share your affliction. A few chuckles and shrugs later, everyone collectively decides to change their ways.

Sometimes the subject of estate planning comes up inadvertently. Maybe a loved one was recently discharged from a hospital or the lack of a Power of Attorney may have made it difficult for a spouse to get information concerning a retirement account. These life events provide an opening for wider discussion about the value of being prepared.

I like the phrase “mapping things out.” There is a form of geographical positioning that takes place in estate planning in which the people you care about and the things you own are carefully arranged to obtain an optimal result.

There is a school of thought among certain estate planning practitioners and clients that all of this should remain private and not for public consumption. Obviously, larger Thanksgiving gatherings with distant cousins, friends and neighbors of the host may not be the optimal occasion to blurt out the names of all the people you’re disinheriting. What we are talking about is a holiday meal where the individuals seated around you are lifelong intimates, family, loved ones of enduring duration.

The idea of a strong family that is meeting estate planning goals and building an infrastructure that will connect family members for decades in celebration and difficulty remains paramount in my mind.

Happy Thanksgiving from everyone at The Feller Group, P.C.

Alan D. Feller, Esq., is managing partner of The Feller Group, located at 625 Route 6, Mahopac. He can be reached at


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