Is it time to have ‘The Talk’ with aging parents about their estate plan?


Unless you’ve talked recently with aging parents about their estate plan, don’t be so sure about getting an inheritance or how big — or small – it will be. A conversation with parents twenty years ago about a large insurance policy or pension may not have any bearing on what assets exist today.

With the exception of families comfortable discussing finances, legacies and inheritances, most families find discussing money and plans for dying and death difficult at best.

Talking with aging parents about their futures can be easier when the discussion is less focused on how much money will be left for their heirs and focusing more on their wishes in case of incapacity.

Do they have legal documents like a power of attorney for their finances, or a healthcare proxy so that a family member may speak with their medical care providers if they cannot do so? If the answer is yes, then find out where these documents are located, and who helped prepare the documents.

If parents have these documents and have worked with an estate planning attorney, chances are good they have an estate plan—but don’t take that for granted.  The conversation needs to continue into more substantial areas. Do they have a will, when is the last time it was updated, and where is it?

Discussing concern that parents’ wishes will be honored may find a more receptive audience than focusing on assets to be distributed.

If a family member has passed in recent memory, a conversation around the funeral and memorial services before and/or after their passing might yield opportunities to ask questions about what they would like to occur.

One client of ours asked that the funeral attendees sing together, and the adult children handed out song sheets with lyrics after the traditional services had ended.

Another created a playlist for each part of the ceremony, from the time people entered the funeral chapel to a specific song when people were leaving the chapel to drive to the cemetery.

Not everyone is so musically minded, but these conversations were part of a larger discussion about the will, trusts that had been created, and the bequests that the decedents wanted grandchildren to have. The musical selections balanced the more serious discussions, making it just a little easier for everyone.

Sadly, in the past year, many families learned the hard way that not having this discussion, not knowing where documents are located and not knowing their parent’s wishes has made a stressful situation worse.

If they don’t want to talk about their estate plan the first time around, don’t be surprised. But don’t give up either. This is too important to let go for too long.

The second time, you might take a different approach. Tell them that you are concerned about their wishes being fulfilled. Explain that if you don’t know what they want to happen with their property, and if they don’t have a will or haven’t worked with an estate planning attorney, the court will make the decision for them. Going to court when there is no will is expensive and time-consuming.

If they have an estate planning attorney, you’ll want to know who they used so you can contact them when the time comes.

Family meetings, in person or online, are so helpful to ensure everyone is on the same page.

Estate planning for aging parents (and for young parents also) is for incapacity and post-mortem.

Incapacity planning names a person to be in charge of their financial and medical affairs if they are incapacitated.

A living will explains what they would want to happen if they are not able to express their wishes about end-of-life care. There might be hard decisions to be made in the future. Knowing what your parents would want will allow you to honor their wishes.

If you have any questions about aging parents and their plans for the future, or if you need help preparing for your family’s future, please call us at 516-307-1236 to learn how we can help.


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