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Having “the talk” with your children isn’t easy, and many parents avoid it as long as possible. That’s why it is important for children to be able to introduce the subject and ask for the information they need, even if doing so feels awkward or uncomfortable.
No, not that talk. We mean the one about estate planning for aging parents. But like that other conversation, if parents and children don’t communicate about this essential topic, there can be unintended and undesirable outcomes.
If you have aging parents, estate planning should be on your mind. According to a Caring.com survey on estate planning, only 34% of Americans have a will (and that figure represents an increase over recent years). Of those without a will, 41% say that a major health diagnosis would motivate them to have one—and 24% say nothing would; they just don’t see why they need an estate plan.
Unfortunately, for many people, a major health issue may come on suddenly and be severe, making it too late to make an estate plan. If your parents have been putting off estate planning—for whatever reason—it’s time to find a way to talk to them.
Your parents are adults. You are an adult. Why is it so difficult to talk to your parents about estate planning? There are lots of reasons. First, while you are an adult, you haven’t always been, of course, and you and your parents are used to the parent-child dynamic. As a child, you may have been taught to “keep your nose out of grown folks’ business,” and you may have difficulty crossing that perceived line now. You may also worry that asking your parents about their estate plan will make it seem as if you are greedy, already trying to count your inheritance.
Seniors came of age in a time when personal business wasn’t discussed openly, even with family members. That included finances and health concerns, so sharing about those issues now may not come easily to them. Also, it may be painful for your parents to imagine a time when they will be gone, or so incapacitated that you need to help them rather than the other way around. Talking about estate planning means acknowledging the reality that death is inevitable and incapacity is possible.
In short, there are likely a lot of entrenched habits on both sides of the table that keep you and your parents from having this discussion. Fortunately, there are ways to approach it that can make it easier for everyone.
Likely before your parents were even born, the original self-help guru, Dale Carnegie, wrote that one of the best ways to persuade people is to “think always in terms of other people’s point of view, and see things from their angle.” Step into your parents’ shoes, metaphorically speaking. Think about what might make an estate planning conversation difficult for them—and what motivates them. Frame the conversation accordingly.
For instance, if your father has always valued being in control, you might want to focus on how an estate plan, including powers of attorney and advance healthcare directives, can keep him in control of the major decisions that affect his life. If your mother’s priority is caring for the family and maintaining relationships, you can help her see that making her wishes clear will make things easier for her loved ones and prevent family members from fighting over what she would have wanted.
Focusing on how making an estate plan will serve your parents’ interests, rather than yours, is likely to make the conversation easier and lower their resistance to having the discussion. But the discussion is only the beginning. You don’t just need to get your parents to talk about estate planning; you need to get them to do it. It’s important to understand what might be holding them back.
If you can get your parents to agree that estate planning is important, the next question you ask needs to uncover what’s holding them back. Some people think they don’t have enough assets to leave behind; it can help to remind them that estate planning is about more than their assets. Other people have mobility issues or aren’t sure how to find the right attorney; you can offer to help them do research and help transport them to the office.
You might say something like, “I’m glad we’ve talked about how important having an estate plan is for your peace of mind. What can I do to make the process easier for you?” You may even want to suggest practical ways that you can help, like taking them to meet the attorney. However, you will want to avoid being overly involved in the process, especially if you think another family member might accuse you of exerting undue influence over your parent. Your parent should meet privately with their attorney.
All of the above assumes that your aging parents don’t have an estate plan and need to get one. It’s possible that your parents have made a will or trust and executed powers of attorney and health care directives. If you learn that that is the case, congratulate them on their preparation, and make sure you know who their attorney is and where their estate plan is stored. Also, while having an estate plan is good, make sure your parents know to update their plan periodically as life changes.
To learn more about estate planning for aging parents, or to schedule an appointment, contact Mundahl Law at 763-575-7930.