When an Elderly Parent Refuses to Make a Will

An elderly parent may need your encouragement to get an estate plan.
An elderly parent may need your encouragement to get an estate plan.

This is a tough scenario. It happens more often than you’d think. Your elderly parent or other family member owns a home, investment accounts and a retirement account, but doesn’t want to have an estate plan. They know they need to do something, but keep putting it off—until they die, and the family is left with an expensive and stressful mess. A recent article titled “How to Get a Loved One to Visit an Estate Planning Attorney Before It’s Too Late” from Kiplinger, suggests ways to talk to a family member about the need for an estate plan.

Most people put off seeing an estate planning attorney, because they are afraid of death. They may also be overwhelmed by the thought of how much work is involved. They are also worried about what it all might cost. However, if there is no estate plan, the costs will be far higher for the family.

How do you get your elderly parent or other family member to understand that they need to move forward?

Talk with the financial professionals your elderly parent or family member already uses and trusts, like a CPA or financial advisor. Ask them for a referral to an estate planning attorney they think would be a good fit with your family member who doesn’t have an estate plan. It may be easier to hear this message from a CPA, than from an adult child.

Work with that professional to help your older family member get comfortable with the idea of talking about their wishes and values with the estate planning attorney. Offer to attend the meeting, or to facilitate the video conference, to make your loved one feel more comfortable.

An experienced estate planning attorney will have worked with reluctant people before. They’ll know how to put the older person at ease and explore their concerns. When the conversation is pleasant and productive, the person may understand that the process will not be as challenging as they had thought and that there will be a lot of help along the way.

If there is no trusted team of professionals, then offer to be a part of any conversations with the estate planning attorney to make the introductory discussion easier. Share your own experience in estate planning with your older family member and mention the reasons that prompted you to create an estate plan. Those reasons could include the peace of mind knowing that your family will not be faced with the time consuming and expensive task of trying to straighten out your affairs after you are gone.

Sometimes the best way to initiate a conversation with your elderly parents about estate planning is to mention that you are planning to do your own estate plan and ask their advice on what issues your should be considering. That may make it easier to ask your family member what they have done regarding their own estate plan.

Trying to force a person to engage in estate planning with a heavy hand, almost always ends up in a stubborn refusal. A gentle approach will always be more successful. Explaining how an estate plan includes not only distributing assets at death, but planning for medical decisions while the person is living, may motivate an otherwise reluctant family member to take that first step.

Describing what the family members will need to go through if there is no will, may or may not have an impact. Some people don’t care, and may simply shrug and say, “It’ll be their problem, not mine.” Consider what or who matters to the person. What if they could leave a gift to a favorite charity or create a fund for their grandchildren to go to college? That might be more motivating.

Another thing to consider: what if your elderly parent or family member has an estate plan and it is out of date? That may be just as bad as not having an estate plan at all, especially if tax laws have changed since the estate plan was made. Also, what if, instead of naming their children as agents to make medical decisions for them, an old health care directive names an undesirable person, such as a former brother-in-law to make medical decisions?

Most people really want to have an estate plan in place, but just never get around to doing it. You could provide a great service to your elderly parent or other family member by giving them the encouragement and assistance to move forward so they can cross this task off their list of things they need to take care of.

You may also be interested in https://www.galliganmanning.com/caring-for-an-elderly-parent-without-ruining-your-relationship/.

Reference: Kiplinger (May 11, 2020) “How to Get a Loved One to Visit an Estate Planning Attorney Before It’s Too Late”