It’s among the most difficult conversations parents and their adult children ever have: what plans have Mom and Dad made in the event of their death or incapacity?
Yet as difficult as the conversation can be, having it can ward off a world of trouble. Not knowing an aging parent’s wishes for their care, or for their estate, can cause stress and confusion, and perhaps permanent rifts between family members.
Here are some suggestions for initiating the conversation, and for important issues to address:
Introducing the topic: A good way to open the subject with aging parents is to reference an article you read (perhaps this one!) that started you thinking, and made you realize you didn’t know anything about your parents’ plans. Or perhaps you have recently made or updated your estate plan; you might then let your parents know that you want them to be aware of your plans. That offers a natural segue to ask about their plans, and ask whom to contact or where to look to find their relevant information.
If you have a friend who has recently lost a parent, you might mention what a comfort it was to your friend to know their parents’ wishes in advance, and to be able to mourn without having to go on a morbid scavenger hunt for paperwork. On the other hand, if your friend did not know their parents’ wishes, you could gently mention how difficult that was for your friend and their family because of what your friend was never told.
Timing is important: While it’s critical to address this issue, especially if your parents are advanced in age or ill, be sensitive to matters of timing. Remember: this issue is emotional for your parents as well as for you. If possible, bring the subject up when everyone is well and in a good frame of mind, but not on a special occasion. Avoid introducing it when stress is high, such as when your dad is in the ER with chest pains, or your mom’s sister has just passed away.
Don’t go it alone: If possible, enlist siblings to have the conversation along with you, and discuss what you’ll say in advance. This accomplishes two things: it gives you moral support, and helps avoid a scenario in which a sibling thinks you’re unfairly trying to influence a parent. If having siblings along when you talk to your parents isn’t possible, urge your parents to make their estate plan information available to your siblings as well as to you, and at the same time, to avoid hurt feelings.
Appeal to their interests: Your parents are more likely to respond well to your inquiries about their estate plan if they understand that you’re focused on their interests, not on your interest in their assets. One way to put things might be, “Mom and Dad, this is difficult for me to bring up, but I need to know if you have made an estate plan. Knowing what your wishes are will help me and (siblings) make sure they’re honored, and help us avoid fighting about what you would have wanted.”
Cover all your bases: A complete estate plan focuses not just on a person’s wishes for their assets after their death, but on their wishes for the management of their care and assets if they are incapacitated. Make sure your parents have thought about this as well, and ask if they have plans for a power of attorney and an advance healthcare directive.
Make it easy for them: It’s possible that your parents have managed to avoid getting around to making an estate plan. If this is the case, gently remind them that making a plan will help avoid family discord and prevent the probate court government from wasting their assets. Then let them know that you have found an attorney who is ready and able to help them. Contact Connecticut estate planning attorney Hank Weatherby today at 888-822-8778 to learn how we can help you and your parents to have peace of mind.