Talking with your parents about their will, or lack thereof, can be challenging. Many adult children put off having the “dreaded talk” with parents and are unprepared when an unforeseen event like an accident or illness happens. A 2022 survey conducted by caring.com shows despite the COVID-19 pandemic, two-thirds of adult Americans do not have a will or estate plan. Putting off the discussion is risky, even if there is apprehension about getting started.
Protecting Your Family While Still Alive
A will is only part of an estate plan and only becomes active upon death. However, crucial documents such as a living will, powers of attorney, and living trusts protect a parent’s quality of life and outline their medical preferences while alive. This point is an important distinction to draw in conversation with your parents. Estate planning isn’t just about inheriting property, money, and objects. It is also a plan for your parents’ future, bringing peace to their daily lives, knowing emergency instructions exist.
While talking to your parents about estate planning helps them, it also helps the family’s adult children. Often with their own family to care for, they must plan for their future beyond their parents. When parents don’t prepare for retirement, including the needs for long-term care or end-of-life decision-making, caretaking might cost the adult children a lot of money, derailing the next generation’s financial stability. Every family has a vested interest in discussing their parents’ estate plan.
Incapacitation and End-of-life Care
Even if your parents have a modest estate, they should make their preferences known regarding incapacitation and end-of-life care. Are there enough available estate assets to cover them through retirement and long-term care issues? If not, there are other options for protecting you and your parents from financial ruin. An estate planning or elder law attorney develops strategies to meet these specific goals.
Professional legal advice helps to start the conversation with parents and siblings. There will be many ideas and viewpoints. Each may be valid, but remember, what seems fair to one sibling may not seem reasonable to another. An open family discussion will instruct specific people to make medical and financial decisions, pay for higher levels of care, and offer options for long-term care services and facilities. It also prevents conflict after parents are gone about “what they would have wanted.” If your parents are making a first-time plan, encourage them to create one that clearly outlines expectations while alive and after death to avoid future issues.
When to Talk about Estate Planning
The sooner, the better. It may take several planning sessions. Figure out the best time when the entire family can get together and keep each meeting to about an hour, presenting a clear agenda. Consider when your parents are at their best during any given day. Some parents may prefer the morning while others prefer the afternoon. Working family members may require weekend meetings. Try to accommodate all family members’ needs but prioritize your parents.
To clearly understand what to address in your family meetings, research what is included in comprehensive estate planning. At your first meeting, providing a general overview may encourage your parents to retain an estate planning attorney. Their attorney may attend some of your meetings or provide answers to specific questions that come up.
Updating an Estate Plan
If an older estate plan is in place, you will need an estate planning lawyer to review its current effectiveness. A child-specific trust when children were minors is outdated if you are adults. Rules and safeguards for trusts and other legal entities may change or no longer be relevant. Estate planning is not a set-it-and-forget-it enterprise. State and federal laws frequently change and can impact existing plans.
Your parents may have multiple marriages between them. In blended families, stepparents can be cause for concern for adult children. It can get very messy, so specific instructions about what goes to a second husband or wife versus what goes to biological or stepchildren must be clear. Some parents consider this a privacy issue and do not want to share these details. Do your best to explain future concerns and pivot to long-term care planning issues while still alive rather than inheritance after death. The goal is to help preserve their assets to live comfortably in a medical crisis and leave the legacy they intended after death. You want to understand their wishes for themselves as well as other family members.
Understanding Your Parent’s Point of View
Have your parents review, or identify what roles they expect their spouse and adult children to play in the estate plan — letting the family know who is selected and why helps manage future expectations. If there is contention on the part of a family member about roles, talk out the feelings and try to bring everyone to an understanding about your parents’ point of view. Take notes during your discussions and refer to them often, following up with supporting data to put family members at ease when resolving sticking points.
Try to keep the conversation on track and handle one topic at a time. Key topics to review will include the estate plan, net-worth statement, family business (if any exists), powers of attorney for health care and financial and digital assets, trusts, will, living will, real and personal property, investments, and long-term care. Set goals for your meetings to provide direction. Know that some of these conversations may be unpleasant or unpredictable. There are as many communication styles among family members as there are unique personalities. Scenarios are endless, so patience and flexibility are key to success.
Include your estate planning attorney and financial advisor if there are certain issues you can’t seem to get past as a family. Directly or indirectly, professional guidance will provide information that will clear up disagreements. Everyone can air their grievances, and the professionals can address each issue from a practical standpoint and how it affects your parents’ well-being emotionally and financially. Although a series of family meetings with honest intentions to help guide your parents’ estate planning can be challenging, the entire family will benefit in the future.