Estate PlanninG

How to Talk to Your Parents About Their Estate Plan

One of the most difficult parts of growing older is realizing our parents’ own mortality. And having conversations about death and dying is rarely fun.

Many people also don’t want to bring up the topic of estate planning because they don’t want to make it seem as if they’re waiting for their parents to die.

But despite the awkwardness, this isn’t a topic to avoid. Unfortunately, there will come a time when your parents pass away, and having a solid plan to care for their money and property when they pass will preserve their legacy and help them care for those they love most. It also will prevent adding increased stress and pressure on the grieving process.

Having this difficult conversation will make sure that your parents have a say regarding their end of life wishes, or if they become incapacitated. Because of advancements in technology, it’s becoming more common for people to experience a time when they are still alive, but unable to make their own decisions. If they haven’t made a plan outlining what they want to happen regarding their finances and medical care, state law will decide what happens and who makes those decisions. The state won’t necessarily care about what your parents’ wishes were if they didn’t put it in a qualified estate plan. In addition, failure to have your parents’ wishes properly documented may result in their heirs having to engage in expensive and time-consuming court processes.

So, how do we go about raising the issue with our parents? Although there’s a number of different approaches, none of them are necessarily better than the other.

Here are a few key points to remember.

Don’t nag them. Although it’s important, the last thing you want is for them to put walls up. Instead of engaging in productive conversation, you might create an atmosphere where they immediately become defensive or become suspicious of your motives.

Be honest about your concerns. Depending on your family dynamic, being open and honest about your worries can be a significant challenge. To have the best conversations, though, you have to address the awkwardness head-on and be the first to be vulnerable.

It’s also important to bring in siblings, stepchildren, new spouses, former spouses, or whoever else is essential to the conversation. Let your parents know that you support them as you embark on these conversations.

Making sure that all parties involved are in generally good health is another consideration. Having these conversations after someone’s health is compromised may result in decisions that aren’t considered objectively. That’s why it’s important to engage in these conversations as soon as possible.

Ask your parents what their wishes are. Find out what your parents want and hope for when it comes to estate planning. Don’t make assumptions, but instead, be direct and ask them what their ideal situation is. Even if you haven’t talked about it yet, that doesn’t mean they don’t have an idea of how they see things happening down the road.

Check if your parents already have some estate planning documents in place. Your parents might already have some estate planning in place and just need to update it. For example, they might have some documents about what should happen if they die or become incapacitated, but the documents don’t reflect family changes that have happened over time. Always ask what they have done in the past. Specifically, ask them if they have any of the following documents and if they need to be reviewed:

  • Past wills

  • Past trust documents

  • Powers of attorney

  • HIPAA authorization forms

  • Insurance policy and retirement plan beneficiary designations

Include benefits to their children and grandchildren. It’s common for grandparents to want to spoil their grandchildren and provide special allocations for them. There are often unique dynamics between children and grandchildren, so the form and method require serious consideration. It could also be the case that they’ll want to give less money to your childless siblings, so tread lightly in this area.

Remember - you don’t have to do it alone.

If the steps above feel overwhelming and you’d like to bring in a neutral party to provide guidance on how the estate planning system works, our team of attorneys are available to help. Call Santaella Legal Group, serving San Ramon, Danville, Dublin, Pleasanton & the Tri-Valley area at (925) 831-4840.