Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is a well-known Christmas story but could Dickens have been thinking about his estate plan when he wrote it?
I am the ghost of Christmas past. What had he done in the past? Who were his beneficiaries? Did he list them on all of his assets? Today, he could have listed beneficiaries on bank accounts, investment accounts, life insurance policies, and retirement plans. Did he remember everyone who was important to him? Could he find his documents (a common problem)? Did he understand his old plan?
I am the ghost of Christmas present. What had changed in his life that would have required him to update his estate plan? Did Dickens have grandchildren with special needs, did he get married, get a divorce, or did he inherit money? Are his beneficiaries good money managers or do they need protecting from themselves? Has the law changed?
Are the listed executors, trustees, and guardians still available and still good choices? People die and move, relationships change, kids age; any of those changes in circumstances could necessitate a change in his estate plan.
I am the ghost of Christmas yet to be. What will Dickens do to plan for future possibilities? Does he know that his story would affect generations? Will he pass along advice and goals that are important to him? Will he create an ethical will? Ethical wills are letters, poems, stories, and lists which pass to the next generation our thoughts and wishes.
Dickens’ Carol teaches that we are more than the things that we own, our lives are marked by the differences that we make in other’s lives. As the new year approaches, may we learn from the three ghosts of Christmas and seek to make the world around us a better place for us all. God bless us, every one!
Karen Baim Reagler is an attorney drafting and reviewing wills, trusts, and estate plans in Hot Springs and Hot Springs Village, Arkansas.