Talking about estate planning can be difficult, for many reasons. Many families don’t make a practice of open communications about financial issues, which can make it uncomfortable to suddenly raise those issues as your parents age. Most people also don’t like to think about—let alone talk about—their own or their parents’ passing, or the possibility of being incapacitated. And, of course, no one wants to create the impression that they’re eager to inherit from their parents or are looking out for their own interests rather than their parents’.
Still, estate planning is too important to avoid simply because you’re not comfortable raising the issues, or fear that your loved ones may not be comfortable. And, an honest conversation has benefits beyond ensuring that your loved ones are adequately protected: being proactive about estate planning and related communications provides peace of mind and allows the whole family to keep its focus where it belongs when a medical crisis or death occurs.
Tips for Talking about Estate Planning
Here are some tips for opening a productive estate planning discussion with your parents or other aging loved ones:
- Know your family and proceed accordingly. Some families are open and casual about money, medical issues and other personal subjects, while others are more formal and keep information closer to the vest. Only you know where your parents fall on this spectrum. Take that into account and, to the extent possible, play by their rules in raising the topic and leading the discussion.
- Do your homework in advance. Estate planning involves much more than writing a will or creating a living trust, and many people overlook important pieces of the puzzle. If you’re going to take the lead, make sure you have educated yourself about all of the components of a comprehensive estate plan, including those that will protect your parents during their lifetimes. Some examples include health care directives, powers of attorney, and Medicaid planning.
- Choose the time and place carefully. Too often, estate planning and other sensitive issues arise on the fly, either spontaneously or because some sort of crisis arises that makes it necessary. Neither is the best way to have this type of conversation. Nobody wants to be blindsided with this type of discussion, and it’s tough to make good decisions under pressure. Everyone involved should be prepared for the discussion that lies ahead, should have plenty of time available to focus on the conversation without feeling pressured or keeping one eye on the clock, and should be in a comfortable environment.
- Start at the beginning. After you’ve done the research and carefully planned the discussion, it would be easy to launch straight into advising and pursuing your agenda. But, your parents may have already considered many of these issues, and may even have arrangements you aren’t aware of. Begin by asking where they are in the estate planning process and what issues are on their minds—there’s plenty of time to circle back and raise issues they may not have considered after you hear them out and talk through the things they’re most concerned about.
- Plan for the conversation to be ongoing. No matter how well prepared you and your family members are, you aren’t likely to reach conclusions about every important issue in one conversation. Use your initial conversation to get a handle on where things stand and what your parents’ priorities are, then determine your next steps. After the initial conversation, your parents will likely need to talk with other family members who will play a role, such as the people they want to appoint to make medical decisions if they are unable. And, you will almost certainly want to seek professional advice from an experienced estate planning attorney, and possibly other professionals such as a financial planner.
- Talk to siblings and other relatives. Inheritance issues can cause serious conflicts in even the best of families. Even if one adult child takes the lead on opening the discussion and assisting parents with estate planning, it’s generally best to be transparent to ensure that other family members aren’t suspicious about what’s happening behind closed doors and how it will affect them.
- Understand how family relationships change the rules. In your heart and your personal relationships, divorced parents may be no different than married parents and your stepmother or stepfather may be just as close to you as your natural parent. But, Florida law treats those relationships differently. The most important differences come into play when the parent or step-parent doesn’t have a will: the rules of intestate succession are different when there are second spouses or separate children involved. And, stepchildren receive nothing under the laws of intestate succession. There are other differences, as well, so when you do your research or consult with an estate planning lawyer, make sure you are clear about the technical and legal relationships.
- Choose an experienced Florida estate planning attorney. An experienced estate planning lawyer can be an invaluable resource as you assist your parents in addressing estate planning issues. The attorney can explain the options and the pros and cons of each, ask questions to identify issues you and your family may not have considered, guide you through the decision-making process, describe how best to choose people to hold powers of attorney and other positions of trust, and draft documents to help ensure that all key issues are addressed and all legal and technical requirements are met.
If you’re like most people with aging parents, you aren’t eager to discuss end-of-life issues and possible incapacity with your family, or to tackle financial issues that may be sensitive. But, you’ll be doing your parents, yourself, and your whole family a favor by ensuring that these issues are thoroughly considered and effectively addressed before they become urgent.
Related Estate Planning Topics:
Estate Planning for Single Parents
How an Elder Law Attorney Can Help Adult Children Plan for Aging Parents
Estate Planning Tips for Snowbirds