HOW TO TALK WITH AGING PARENTS ABOUT ESTATE PLANNING
“Mom, dad, we need to talk.” Many people dread discussing financial arrangements with their elderly parents. It’s not easy reminding our parents that their time left on this earth is limited. This can be especially challenging if one or both of your parents is becoming less sharp mentally or showing signs of early dementia. These discussions are difficult, but necessary for their (and your) peace of mind. From something as simple to knowing where they have stored their wills and other estate planning documents to the more complex, like understanding what is being passed down and how, what their wishes are for final arrangements, and whether and to what extent you and your siblings need to be prepared to deal with estate taxes, having the whole family on the same page will only help everyone get through the difficult times when your parents pass.
And, at a much more basic level, the only way to find out if they even have an estate plan in place is to ask. The sooner you ask, the better their chances of getting something in place before it is too late.
So, what’s the best way to talk to your aging parents about estate planning? We’ve provided a few sincere approaches to help broach that intimate conversation.
Ask About Their Wishes
Often, it’s not what we say, but how we say it. For example, consider the following questions:
Instead of focusing on your parents’ death or incapabilities, focus on their desires. In this context, your parents have control over their decision. This approach opens up a comfortable pathway to discussing funeral arrangements and property matters, such as what to do with their house or to whom they desire to pass down assets. They may or may not have updated their estate planning documents recently, and asking about whether what is in those documents still reflects their wishes can also serve as a gentle reminder for them to check in with their estate planning lawyer, especially if you are concerned that one or both of them may be facing a decline in cognitive functioning or decision making.
Express Yourself as a Concerned Child
Many loving parents shudder at the thought of worrying their child. If you know your aging parents care deeply about your anxiety or concerns, start off the discussion by explaining a few things you’re worried about. Have you stressed about their debt and how it will be paid off? Are you unsure of how to handle their medical affairs in case of illness? Are you worried about how the family will manage either keeping them in their home or the costs of assisted living if that becomes impossible? Are you concerned about disagreements between your siblings about things like where they should be buried and how the funeral should be handled?
Explain to your parents that you and your siblings will be at ease if you’ve prepared as a family ahead of time before the unexpected has a chance to occur. Your parents might realize it’s better to discuss familial matters now rather than leave you scrambling in a crisis, and may be more open to talking about how to solve a problem for you than they are to thinking about their own needs and wishes.
Come Seeking Advice
“Mom, dad, I want to consider the kids’ well-being in case something happens to me. What are your thoughts on me hiring an estate planning attorney?” Open the floor by inquiring about their own estate planning attorney. It’s a good way to tell if your parents have considered estate planning already. Guide the conversation about how you desire to handle medical and financial affairs, going through a checklist of everything you need to address, such as designated beneficiaries, power of attorney decisions, and estates. Seeking your parents’ advice may change their perspective on solving their own matters.
Don't Forget These Are Still Their Decisions
It is important to remember that, no matter how concerned you may be about how your family manages after their passing, ultimately the decisions they make in their estate plans is up to your parents. Your conversations will be more productive, and cause less anxiety for them, if the clear purpose is not to try to change their minds about what they want, but to make sure you and your siblings understand it and that your family is prepared.
What If They Have Not Done Any Estate Planning?
The bad news if you find out your parents have no plan in place is that you and your siblings are at much greater risk for strife, turmoil and expense after their passing. The good news is that if your parents are both still mentally competent, there is still time for them to set things in order. It is important that they speak with an estate planning lawyer as soon as possible. The lawyer will most likely want to have a conversation alone with your parents as well- do not be alarmed- this is a necessary part of the process. The lawyer simply needs to make sure that your parents are expressing their own voluntary wishes. It is not meant to shut you out of the process, but to help ensure that the documents they put together are legally valid.
We’re Here for You
We understand that money and health are not always easy topics of discussion to bring up with your parents. However, a gentle, strategic approach may be what you need to get the conversation going. For legal advice, helpful planning tools and financial guidance, the experienced attorneys at slnlaw are here for you.
slnlaw is a law firm in Sharon Massachusetts providing business, employment law and estate planning services to individuals and small businesses