Probate Lawyers Say Talk to Your Parents About Estate Planning

Probate lawyers say it's important to talk to your parents about estate planning.
Probate lawyers say it’s important to talk to your parents about estate planning.

Probate lawyers often meet with adult children who are trying to settle their parents’ estates. Many times these children are surprised by their parents’ financial situation and the lack of estate planning that their parents have done. When little or no estate planning has been done, it can be expensive and time consuming to deal with all the unresolved issues that  result. That’s why probate lawyers strongly encourage adult children to talk to their aging parents about their finances, their feelings about health care decisions, and whether they have an estate plan in place. But this is easier said than done. How do you start a conversation that includes a discussion of a family member’s mortality?

Sometimes the way to ease into a conversation with aging parents about money and their estate plan, is to discuss your own. If you want to know about their will or estate plan, start by explaining your own estate plan, how you’ve decided to set up your estate and then ask what they’ve done for themselves.

The conversation may feel awkward the first time you start it, says the Daily Local News in the article “Ask your folks about their financial plans,” but you need to get to where everyone is comfortable having the conversation. Your parents’ plans might impact yours, and visa versa. So, it’s good to talk “early and often” not only about your parents’ estate plan, but how they are planning for the costs of retirement, including health care.

It’s important for aging parents to understand that, if something happens to them, their children are the most likely ones to step in and take charge. Your parents need to understand that the more you know in advance, the better equipped you’ll be to make sure that their wishes are followed.

A good opening is to talk about your plans to save for retirement. Ask your parents what they did, or do, about 401(k) contributions. This will give you insight into how well-prepared and knowledgeable they are about retirement savings. If you’re house hunting, that’s an excellent opportunity to get them talking about their furture plans for living arrangements. Do you need to buy a home with a possible “in-law” suite in mind? It’s not a bad question to ask. It shows that you are thinking about their future needs.

Probate lawyers have seen how untangling an estate when there’s no will and no advance planning has been done can tear a family apart. That’s the last thing you or your parents want. Talking openly with them about money, trusts, wills, life insurance and advance medical directives, will give you an idea of what they have or have not done to plan for the future. It may spur your parents on to move forward with their estate plan, if they have been procrastinating.

Even if you learn that they haven’t done any planning and don’t have a will, that is better than not knowing until it’s too late. If you learn that this is the case, you can start educating them about what will happen if they don’t meet with an estate planning attorney. You can offer to take them to meet your estate planning attorney or to give them a few names so that they can decide who they are most comfortable with. This could help them avoid some common estate planning mistakes.

Setting up your own estate plan is another opportunity to ask your parents what they did and what their thoughts are about your  estate plan. Their family may have never done any estate planning, and they might have more than a few family horror stories to share. In that case, you can help them change the family’s dynamic by encouraging them to take a different path.

Reference: Barchart (April 16, 2019) “Ask your folks about their financial plans”

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