Bringing up the topic of estate planning with parents is something that many people avoid. It is an awkward, seemingly morbid, conversation to start with aging parents. You may fear your parents will feel you are invading their privacy, or assessing your inheritance prematurely. However, it is an incredibly important and necessary conversation to start.
“Hey, Mom – Do You Have a Will?”
A will addresses what will happen with money, property, and other assets. It appoints a personal representative who will have the authority to settle the estate, and communicates the manner in which assets should be distributed. Without a will, the estate will be divided in probate court and according to state statute. Not only is this process costly and time consuming (potentially costing thousands and lasting months), but the manner in which assets are divided under state statute may not be what your parent(s) had intended.
It is a delicate topic that can spark varying emotions and reactions. One suggestion for a gentle way to start the conversation may be:
“I don’t want to upset you, but if something were to happen I would want to know that your wishes are being followed. Do you have a will?”
It is important that your parents’ wishes are executed in a legally binding document (such as will) and not merely communicated or written down. If your parents do not have a will, encourage them to meet with an attorney.
Medical and Financial Matters
As parents age, there may come a time where their children assist them with their finances and/or make medical decisions on their behalf. The power to make financial decisions is granted through a Power of Attorney, and the authority to make medical decisions is given through a Health Care Directive. Without these documents in place, you may need to become a court-appointed guardian and/or custodian to help your parents with such matters.
A Power of Attorney allows an individual to name an agent(s) whom they trust to manage their finances in the event they are unable to do so on their own – perhaps due to physical or mental impairment. A Health Care Directive names a health care agent(s) to make medical decisions, and also communicates what those health care wishes are – giving invaluable guidance and insight to the health care agent acting on their behalf.
Because these decisions are made and managed while parents are still alive, it can be a sensitive conversation to start as they may feel you are starting to question or challenge their capacity and/or autonomy. An easy way to start this conversation may be:
“If you were ever in the hospital and on life support, I would be really emotional and have a hard time making a decision regarding your care. I know we have talked about it, but I think it would give us both relief if it was put into writing.”
“If you were to ever need help managing your finances, do you have documents in place so that someone you trust is able to help?”
It is imperative these documents are completed sooner rather than later. Once an accident has occurred or a disease has progressed, your parent may lack the legal capacity to sign documents which may require you to initiate a guardianship or conservatorship proceeding.
Not only are these documents a benefit to the parents in making certain their wishes are clear, but it also is a benefit to the individuals who will be in the roles of helping manage finances, medical care and/or settling of the estate. Without these documents in place, it can be much more costly and complex to the children taking on these roles for their parents. Schromen Law, LLC works with families to make sure the correct legal protections are in place – for their safety, security and peace of mind.
The material contained herein is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to create or constitute an attorney-client relationship between Schromen Law, LLC and the reader. The information contained herein is not offered as legal advice and should not be construed as legal advice.