Some people are planners by nature. They have their will and power of attorney drawn up before their first child is even born, and they pre-purchase burial plots long before retirement. If your parents are the planning sort, having “the talk” will probably be more of a show and tell. You’ll learn where and how to access those precious documents if something should happen to them, where the bank accounts and insurance policies are held, and what they would want to have included in their obituary. Consider yourself lucky!
If, however, that all sounds grim and uncomfortable to you, you might not be the estate planning type. You may find this conversation as difficult as the people you need to have it with. But even if it makes you and/or your parents a little squeamish, it’s a conversation that is critical if you want to be able to properly care for them at the end of their lives and be able to honor their wishes after they have passed.
If your parents or someone else in your life whose care you are likely to assume someday have not already taken steps to put their affairs in order, encouraging them to do so is a great gift to all involved. If you don’t know how to start the conversation or what it should include, fear not! We’ve gathered some helpful guidance to get your loved ones on the path to peace of mind.
Start With Siblings
Only child? Feel free to skip ahead. Brothers and sisters? Feel free to talk amongst yourselves. The decisions that are made during the estate planning process will likely impact all of you, so it’s vital that everyone is on the same page. Knowing to whom certain responsibilities, like a health proxy or an executor, will eventually fall will serve you all well in a time of crisis.
It will also ease tensions down the road when the estate finally needs to be settled and various assets distributed. Some parents choose to divide their estate evenly amongst their heirs while others do not. It’s hard to read a financial advice column that does not at least once touch upon the theme of what is deemed fair in the allocation of assets. Getting all of the information out in the open ahead of time can eliminate, or at least reduce, the element of unwelcome surprises.
You’ll also want to canvas the clan to see if any of them already have more details on your parents’ plans than you do. It’s possible they have already engaged in “the talk” or that they are aware of arrangements that have previously been made. Someone else in the family may also be more comfortable or practiced in discussing these matters and better equipped to lead the conversation.
It’s possible that your mother has had this task looming in the back of her mind for years and simply continues to put it off. It’s possible that your father thinks it is impolite to talk about his net worth and the size of his estate. The unfortunate truth is that we just don’t know when a life-altering event, such as a health emergency or death, will occur. The last thing you’ll want is to be wholly unprepared if one does.
By getting ahead of the situation, you can avoid having to go through court proceedings to appoint a guardian in the event of incapacitation and lengthy probate processes where said courts determine who will inherit an estate if someone passes away without a will or trust in place. If your parents are reluctant to discuss the matter, gently remind them of what is at stake if they don’t.
Find An Opening
It can be helpful to initiate the conversation with a fitting news article or an anecdote from friends or relatives who have recently gone through the process (or should have gone through it). It may even be that you yourself need to put your affairs in order with the help of an estate attorney and can use this as a conversation prompt.
That prompt, though, is just an opener to a larger conversation. Let your parents or loved ones know that you want to sit down with them to review their finances, any legal documents already in place, and their wishes for end-of-life care, funeral arrangements, and distribution of assets. It helps to let them know that the conversation is out of love and a genuine desire to care for and honor them. Be honest and understanding that it might make you all uncomfortable. But by putting some attention to these needs up front, they will likely feel a sense of relief at seeing it through, and so will you.
Once they’ve agreed to discuss the matter, prepare a list of documents they should locate and have handy. With so much online access to account information, they can probably download and print the bulk of what they need. Be sure to get a list of every bank and investment account (and the contact information for their financial advisor if they have one), insurance policies, pensions, all the property they own, along with any mortgages or debts. The more complete picture you have of the assets and liabilities, the better.
Seek Out Professional Help
Don’t go it alone. Your parents may have a trusted family attorney to turn to. If not, you can take the initiative to prepare a list of estate attorneys that can assist them with their estate planning needs. Online reviews and referrals from friends and colleagues can help you vet lawyers in the area. With so many documents to prepare, legal requirements to ensure, and a variety of structures for trusts, wills, and the like, it is imperative to enlist a professional.
Lawyers who specialize in estate planning understand the legal processes of getting financial affairs in order to prepare for the possibility of an incapacitating event and an eventual passing. They are practiced in the complexities and sensitive to the differing needs of individuals and families.
Some of the documentation you’ll want to have drawn up include a last will and testament, power of attorney, health care proxy, living will, revocable living trusts, and possibly more, depending on your parents’ unique situation.
Continue the Conversation
Remember, this conversation isn’t a one-time-only discussion. The estate plan can always be updated as needs – or minds – change. It should be reviewed periodically, as children are added to the family by birth or adoption, as heirs marry or divorce, etc. Open communication is the key to easing the difficulties created by unexpected health events and grief.
If you’ve had “the talk” with loved ones and they’re ready to take the next step, Easler attorneys are available to assist you. We have experience in guiding families through the intricacies of estate planning, and we are experts at simplifying this complex process so that everyone feels good about their decision. We pay close attention to the little details so that the needs of each client are met.
Peace of mind is priceless. Schedule a time to talk to your parents today. Then schedule a time to talk to Easler!