Tips for Adults Speaking with Their Parents about Estate Planning
Estate planning conversations are tricky. Most people don’t want to discuss end-of-life issues or money, and estate planning encompasses both. While these conversations are uncomfortable, they are necessary so that adult children understand their parents’ expectations and decisions regarding long term care, asset distribution, and more. There are several ways to have this conversation and make it as productive and comfortable as possible.
Life is unpredictable and delaying this conversation leaves you, your siblings, and parents vulnerable to legal and financial challenges that could have been avoided. Now is an especially good time to have a conversation about estate planning because the coronavirus is removing day-to-day distractions from people’s lives, giving you and your family the time needed to have detailed and uninterrupted discussions.
Schedule a Time for this Conversation
This process begins by making it clear that you want to speak with your parents on this topic and scheduling a specific date and time to do so. If you bring this topic up unexpectedly, your parents and siblings may feel that they have been ambushed. Instead, show everyone respect by giving people time to prepare for the discussion. Also, estate planning is a complex topic, so understand that it is rarely addressed during one conversation.
Include Other Family Members as Appropriate
The last thing that is needed during this time is resentments and misunderstandings between siblings. If you work alone with your parents, even with the best of intentions, the situation can be misconstrued as an attempt to influence your parents, place yourself in charge. or establish yourself as the heir to the bulk of their estate. These conversations are difficult enough without adding additional stresses.
One of the best ways to manage this process is to share your thoughts with your siblings prior to the meeting. This allows everyone to be on the same page and, if desired, create a list of their opinions, requests, and other ideas before talking with the parents. Basically, this pre-discussion discussion gives your siblings a chance to really think about estate planning and how they would like to see it structured. Any issues that can be resolved now smooths the way to more productive conversations later.
Don’t Assume Anything
When speaking with your parents, don’t assume that they have or haven’t thought about estate planning. Keep the conversation flexible by asking open ended questions, such as:
- Do you have or have you begun your estate plan?
- Are you working with an estate planning agent?
- Do you know when you want to retire and where you want to live at that time?
- Have you structured your finances to meet these goals, including accessing pension accounts and the sale of properties and estate holdings?
- Have you considered the need for medical and legal powers of attorneys and have you begun to detail what you want?
- Do you know how you want any remaining assets distributed after your death?
This is just a general list of talking points, not a to-do list, so to listen to your parents and be flexible during this discussion. Let their topic choices frame the conversation rather than treating the process as if they are completing a questionnaire. Also, remember that it is okay if they don’t have an answer to a question. Simply note this topic as one that needs further discussion.
Remember that Your Parents are in Charge of their Decisions and Assets
During this discussion there are two primary issues that can drive a wedge between adult children and their parents. The first is the children believing that they know what is best for the parents and ignore their stated wishes. Unless your parents are experiencing a form of dementia, they have the right to determine their medical and legal wishes, as well as the distribution of their estate as they choose. You may have an opinion but you must respect their choices even if you disagree with them.
The second issue is about ownership of assets and money. Sometimes adult children consider parent’s estate as something held in trust for the children and believe that it should be managed from this perspective. This point of view is not accurate so do not make the mistake of treating their assets as your own during this conversation. They have a right to spend their money however they choose and you have no right to complain. The only exception to this rule is if you would like them to consider whether a choice they make could negatively impact their future financial needs. In this situation you may express an opinion but remember that the decision is ultimately theirs to make.
Whether your parents are willing to have an estate planning conversation with you or not, it is highly recommended that they hire a skilled estate planner to assist in this process. At Life Counsel & Planning, we have worked with families like yours to create estate plans, durable powers of attorney, wills, and trusts. We take a comprehensive approach to this process to assure consistency and reduce tax liabilities. Call us at (904) 638-2345 to schedule a free consultation with one of our attorneys or go online to request an appointment.