Discussing Estate Planning With Hesitant Parents

How To Discuss Estate Planning with Hesitant Parents
by Don Drake, Connelly Law Offices, Ltd.
Attorney RJ Connelly III

"Several times a week I am asked by younger couples how to discuss the need for estate planning with their elderly parents," said certified elder law Attorney RJ Connelly III. "Recently, a son and daughter told me about their parents, who owned a home in Rhode Island, and another on Martha's Vineyard and were thinking about going into an assisted living program. Their assets totaled well over a million dollars, yet they did not have a will nor a comprehensive estate plan and despite attempts by the children to discuss the importance of having this in place, they refused to entertain any conversation about this."

"The son said that the family had a talk about the economy and the cost of long-term care," said Attorney Connelly. "But as soon as the discussion turned to estate planning, both parents became quite upset and immediately changed the subject."

For most of us, discussing finances and estate planning with our parents is a challenging, if not daunting task, even though having a plan in place can mitigate confusion and add clarity when moving forward at the end of life. It can also help avoid unnecessary legal costs, taxes, and delays in the distribution of assets.

"...discussing finances and estate planning with our parents is a challenging, if not daunting task, even though having a plan in place can mitigate confusion and add clarity when moving forward at the end of life."

"Estate plans usually come into play near the end of our lives when important decisions around health and finances arise," said Attorney Connelly. "This includes what kind of medical treatment we may want, how it will be paid for, and even choices around using life support called advance directives. Financial decisions can include Medicaid planning, Estate planning, and tax planning when assets are transferred to the beneficiaries."

Attorney Connelly continued, "After we have passed, our estate plans, among other legal tools, may be used to direct funeral service arrangements and what will happen with our remains. There are some who leave very specific instructions on how the service will be arranged while others will leave those decisions up to the family or close friends."

Broaching the subject can be uncomfortable

All this is extremely important, but just how do you prepare to discuss estate planning with parents who refuse to discuss the future or are in denial of their own mortality? Here are some tips from Connelly Law to prepare for that conversation.

  1. Familiarize yourself with the primary estate planning documents and what they are used for. This will allow you to create an outline of how your parents will want their plan to function.

  2. Get together as a family and collaborate on an estate plan. In many cases, this can help move the process forward and support hesitant parents.

  3. You will want to meet with an elder law attorney who does estate planning to be sure how comprehensive the plan should be and if you covered all the necessary bases. If parents feel confident that the homework has been done, they may be more willing to move forward.

When you are ready to start the conversation with your parents, it may help to begin by asking them if they already have any estate planning documents. Some questions to consider include:

  1. Do you have any estate planning documents? If so, where do you keep them?

  2. Who do you want to make health care decisions for you?

  3. What are your medical and end-of-life preferences?

  4. After your death, how do you want your tangible and intangible assets distributed? Who do you want to oversee the distribution of your assets?

"Estate planning is a dynamic process and will evolve, in most cases, as conditions and family relationships change," said Attorney Connelly. "As such, the documents should be reviewed periodically. For example, if someone named in the plan has the power to make health care decisions for you and they have passed away, someone else may need to be named to fill that role. This may also be a suitable time to reevaluate those who are named to fill that role. Although such discussions can be difficult to approach, it is important to emphasize that one of the most important things about a well-written and thoughtful estate plan is that it gives everyone involved peace of mind as they move through the end of their loved one's life."

Note: This blog offers an overview of aspects of estate planning law. It is not legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice, you should contact, consult, or engage an attorney.

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