How do I Talk to My Aging Parents about Creating an Estate Plan?
Even well into the 21st century, parents still have trouble talking to their kids about the birds and bees. Interestingly, talking to your parents about estate planning often falls into the same uncomfortable category. In both cases, however, the conversations are necessary and often enlightening; in both cases “the talk” has the benefit of avoiding future difficulties and complications. During this article, we’re going to address a number of ways to bring up the subject of estate planning and also which specific topics need to be addressed.
If You Pay Attention, Opportunities for Discussion Will Present Themselves
During the course of everyday chats, topics connected to estate planning frequently present themselves, as in the following examples:
- An article in the newspaper about weather catastrophes points out the necessity of keeping vital documents, like wills and insurance policies, accessible in case of evacuation.
- An assisted living facility has been built close to your parents’ home and your mom comments on the lovely landscaping.
- You are expecting your first child and now want to get your own estate plan underway.
- A neighbor’s grown children aren’t certain whether their father, who just passed away, should be buried or cremated since they remember his wishes differently and he left no written directives.
- There is a story on TV about a celebrity who died intestate (without a will) and now his children are engaged in a legal battle over the amount of inheritance each will receive.
- One of your parents has a heart attack that the doctor says was a “close call,” so your family is suddenly focused on mortality.
It will help if you have done some prep work before approaching your parents when the moment is right. Knowing the name of a skilled estate planning attorney is a good place to start.
Why It’s Important to Tune In to Estate Planning
In any of the above situations, there is a convenient opening to discussing the importance of proper estate planning. A general comment about how necessary it is to decide such weighty matters in an atmosphere of calm may be a good lead-in to an initial conversation. Often, it is best for the first talk to be brief so as not to increase anxiety levels.
It is probably a good idea to say something like, “My friend Natalie says she and Phil have found an excellent estate planning attorney. Maybe we should give him a call and make an appointment to talk things over.” Or, alternatively, “Why don’t we have a family meeting after the barbecue on Saturday since we all have to make decisions along these lines.”
Make Sure Your Parents Understand that Estate Planning Is Empowering
Of course, every family dynamic is unique. Some parents just need the seeds planted. Others want to feel supported by their children throughout the process. Whatever works in your family is fine, but you should make time to mention the significant benefits of estate planning. It’s important to motivate your parents (and yourself!) by explaining that planning for their future gives them control and freedom so that they will be the ones answering the following questions:
- Where will I live if I’m unable to live alone?
- How do I want my assets distributed?
- Are there specific items I want specific individuals to receive?
- Who do I want to make healthcare and financial decisions for me if I become incapacitated?
- How can I prevent my special needs loved one from losing government benefits?
- How can I help my spendthrift sister from spending her inheritance?
or prevent my addicted grandson from blowing through his college tuition funds?
- Who do I want to take care of my pet if I predecease it?
- Do I want funeral or memorial services when I pass away? Burial or cremation?
- Do I want to donate my organs?
Estate Planning Prevents Trouble Down the Road
Maintaining a calm demeanor during “the talk” is essential, but it will help to make sure your parents understand that estate planning will not only provide peace of mind now, but will prevent conflict and confusion in the future. As a matter of fact, working with a competent estate planning attorney will help them to:
- Protect their assets from probate expenses, excessive taxation, lawsuits and creditors
- Avoid family squabbles after they pass away
- Get only the medical treatments they want if they’re at the end of their lives
- Choose who will make their financial and healthcare decisions if they’re unable to
- Make certain their loved ones have rapid access to needed funds during an illness and/or after they die
- Make sure that loved ones know where to find healthcare proxies, wills, and papers pertaining to bank accounts, taxes, and insurance policies, as well as keys to their safe deposit boxes
Be Proactive — Have the Estate Plan Talk with Your Parents Now
At different ages, we need different types of guidance. If you feel that this is the time to help your parents confront the issues surrounding aging, you are undoubtedly right. While you’re focused on such important matters, remember that you should be working on your own plan. By working on your own estate planning, you can influence your loved ones to work on theirs.
Michelle is a compassionate professional who provides peace of mind to her clients. She is a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation which means she is uniquely qualified to serve the interests of older, maturing populations by having met comprehensive and strict requirements. Michelle is one of only 24 CELAs in the state of Massachusetts.