The idea of confronting our parents’ mortality is indeed difficult, but this is a conversation (or series of conversations) that is crucial to you and your family’s well-being. We are so used to being cared for by our parents that the transition to becoming their caregiver often sneaks up on us. Preparing yourself ahead of time may ease the anxiety this transition can invoke. That being said, remember that your parents may not want to be reminded of their mortality either… tact is necessary!
Top 5 ways NOT to talk to your parents about Estate Planning
1. "Come on; let us see your will so we can establish once and for all who your favorite is!”
While this may be gratifying to some, writing a will is an incredibly difficult process, imagine surveying all that you have acquired over your lifetime and then trying to determine what is fair, who is most likely to find value in what is in part, your legacy. Be sensitive. The larger issue is ensuring that a will exist, its location is known, and that any necessary updates are made. When a parent dies without a will, the estate is divided in probate in court, and a judge, not your parent, decides who gets what. And while this may be satisfying (Yes! You don’t have to take your mom’s Spoons from Around the World Collection!), the financial costs and potential trauma it can cause within the family is not worth it. So, don’t ask them to choose favorites (you know it’s you anyway) but do ask if one exists. Remind your parents that it is not about who gets what, you just want to ensure their wishes are followed.
2. "This is the third time you’ve “lost” your keys, have you decided who is going to make your decisions for you when you get too senile to do it yourself?”
Frankly, no one wants to imagine their parents incapacitated, but should this occur, your parents need to designate someone to act as power of attorney. Without this designation, a judge will decide, which can once again lead to costly court fees and family trauma. This is also a good time to express if you have resignations about fulfilling this role yourself. The person named to this role is given the ability to make legal and financial decisions should your parent be unable to.
3. "You’re looking a little… ‘tired’ lately, what is the status of your advance health care directives?”
Once again, no one wants to be reminded of their own mortality, but the best time to make these decisions is before someone becomes ill. Advance health care directives include a living will, a health proxy, and a HIPPA. Having clear, written instructions created while healthy, ensures that the emotions involved in dealing with illness do not impact decisions. Without these instructions, heartbreak and even lawsuits could ensue.
5. And last, and probably the worst of all, what not to say to your parents when discussing estate planning, "I’m so tired of being broke all the time! On a totally unrelated subject, have you named an authorized user on your financial accounts?”
Yikes! This is an important issue, because should the account holder become incompetent or die, gaining access to funds can be insanely difficult. To avoid yet another costly court battle, encourage your parents to name a trusted family member as co-owner of investments and accounts. Again, if this is a role you are not willing to fulfill, now is the time to speak up.
While I joke, it is vital for your family to fully understand where your parents are in the estate planning process. They spent years investing in your well-being and future, an uncomfortable conversation (or two, or three) is the least you can do to invest in theirs.