How to Talk to Your Parents About Estate Planning and Why It’s Important

Estate planning is important, but it’s also a complicated and sensitive topic, making it a difficult conversation to have with one’s parents. That’s why when bringing up the subject with them, you want to do it tactfully. But first, let’s address why it’s even necessary to have an estate plan.

Why Is It Important?

Although it might be uncomfortable, estate planning is something everyone should have in place. Not only does it save surviving relatives from difficulties and legal battles after a loved one’s death, but it also addresses common scenarios parents might face while still alive. According to a Forbes survey, only 18% of those 55 and above have all of the necessary legal documents involved in an estate plan. This means that less than a quarter of the population who might be nearing retirement or have family members to take care of do not have an estate plan. No matter one’s age, everyone should create a plan, especially those 55 and older.

Estate planning goes beyond wills and inheritance. It benefits the person by allowing them to be in control of their finances and medical choices while they are still alive, even if they become incapicitated. Elements of an estate plan provide detailed instructions and requests made by the testator, so their surviving family just has to follow these wishes. Without a plan, it’s easy for family disagreements to occur, whether it be over assets or medical treatment options if someone’s incapacitated. An estate plan also includes instructions on what to do if someone is in an accident. It establishes who can act as a proxy, both for medical and financial decisions.

Planning benefits the whole family, not just the beneficiaries. This saves them from making difficult choices. Although this is a scary scenario to think about, it’s important to face the reality that this might occur, especially for those who are older. No one wants these situations to become a reality, but this preparation will benefit everyone involved. Now that we’ve addressed the overall importance of estate planning, especially as parents age, let’s review a step-by-step plan for how to start the conversation.

1. First, Find a Time to Talk

A lot of people might put off discussing estate planning with their parents because they don’t know how to start the conversation. While that’s understandable, you still need to take that leap of faith to talk with them. An easy way to get into the subject is by first finding an opportunity to schedule a time to talk. This might be broached over a family dinner or a walk in the park. Setting up a time to discuss finances and final wishes may raise one’s anxiety so casually bringing up the subject first allows everyone to feel more at ease.

It’s also a good idea to invite other siblings or family members to join the conversation once scheduled. Having a group discussion with those who are involved sets up a precedent of honesty and openness. It also enables everyone to voice their opinions and get on the same page. Parents can be reassured that the family understands what’s going on and how assets will likely be addressed. No secrets now means less likelihood of disagreement later.

2. Emphasize that You Want to Help

Before starting the actual discussion, you’ll also want to indicate your intentions to help alleviate any anxiety. Emphasize that you are trying to be helpful, not greedy. You want them to know that you value their wishes, so the goal of this conversation is to ensure that those wishes are fulfilled. An estate plan goes beyond just the distribution of assets. It also addresses their living will and power of attorney, who will make medical or financial decisions for them, so (again) you want to ensure that their requests are followed.

You might touch on their health since it’s common to have more medical issues as one ages, but be careful how you discuss this since people can be sensitive and uncomfortable discussing death and failing health. Underscore that you’re not predicting their future, but simply being proactive and giving them control.

Parents may think that they’re a burden if they need assistance with planning, but it’s helpful to remind them that creating a plan now actually eliminates uncertainty for everyone. Their proactiveness will ensure that surviving family members will only have to simply follow instructions. This is also the time to show your patience and willingness to assist them. By creating a plan, parents essentially take control of their medical and financial decisions.

Lastly, you’ll want to make a note that you’re there to start the conversation and begin the process. You will listen carefully but even so, you can point out that they have more resources than just their children and/or other relatives. Parents should retain an attorney, who is bound by rules of ethics to serve their clients’ interests, regardless of what any family member might say or prefer.

3. Next, Figure Out What They Already Have

Once you’ve established a comfortable environment for your parents, you can begin discussing what they already have. Your parents might have some elements of an estate plan already, such as a will or trust, or retirement funds. They might also know how they’d like to distribute other assets such as a family home or cars. Or they may have a collection of passwords to access all of their important banking and financial information.

It’s best to list all of these assets, and how to get to them. This could be provided to you or another family member. If they don’t feel comfortable sharing this information with you, there are other alternatives. They can work with an attorney or have a set of instructions in case of emergency. Working with an attorney provides a professional and organized option. Attorneys ensure that all documents and information are stored properly and easily accessible once needed. The second option (leaving instructions) allows parents to control what happens until the very end.

4. Determine What Else You Can Help With

After you’ve determined what your parents already have accumulated, it’s time to determine what else they need. The necessary elements of an estate plan include a will with an executor, power of attorney, and a living will.

A will dictates what assets you have and how you’d like them to be distributed. The executor—the person who will ensure that the will is followed—is also assigned. The power of attorney is the agent chosen to make any necessary financial and medical decisions if the testator is alive but in a situation where they cannot make them. The living will is the legal document that explains what choices the testator may make in these scenarios. These situations might involve religious or personal preferences, or medical treatment choices.

All of these elements involve making important choices, and all entirely up to your parents. Beyond your parents’ best judgment, an experienced attorney can assist them in choosing the best people for these roles, as well as backups for each.

There are a few other important aspects to estate planning outside of a will and other legal documents. These include instructions for funerals or who will take care of parents if needed. Although these topics are difficult to address, details about funeral services or who will pay off the remaining bills should be discussed in advance. Without instructions, loved ones may be left to grieve while also juggling financial confusion.

5. Lastly, Understand Your Limitations

After you’ve helped your parents gather their finances together, you’ll want to consider what you have left to do so their estate plan can be finalized. It might seem easy to go from this discussion straight to an online template. But these are one-size-fits-all, so they won’t cater to your parents’ needs. It’s easy for these templates to result in mistakes and errors, thereby costing the estate money or landing in probate court.

The best way to ensure that an estate plan best fits the testator is to consult an attorney. Rosenblum Law has experts in their field who can look over and ultimately create an estate plan that fits your parents’ ideal wishes. Call us at 888-815-3649 for a free initial consultation.

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