Thinking about estate planning isn’t fun. Thinking about your own parents dying isn’t fun, either.
But your elderly parents don’t want their adult children fighting over their inheritance after they die. In many cases, family conflicts lead to litigation, and everyone loses. That’s why it’s so important to have a family meeting about estate planning.
Of course, no one wants to have the conversation. It’s a difficult, painful, emotional topic.
But if you don’t talk to your elderly parents while they are able to share information and give you instructions, helping with their care if they become incapacitated or dealing with their estate after they pass will be far more difficult.
When is the right time to have the conversation? There is no time like the present. Don’t wait for an emergency to occur—what most people do—but by then, it’s too late.
Start by including siblings. Including everyone creates an awareness of fairness because no one is being left out. A frank, open conversation including all of the heirs with parents can prevent or at least lessen the chances for arguments over what parents would have wanted. Distrust grows with secrets, so get everything out in the open.
Estate planning includes preparing for issues of aging as well as property distribution after death. Health care power of attorney and financial power of attorney need to be prepared, so family members can be involved when a parent is incapacitated. An estate planning attorney will draft these documents as part of creating an estate plan.
The unpredictable events of 2020 and 2021 have made life’s fragile nature clear. Now is the time to sit down with family members and talk about the plans for the future. Do your parents have an estate plan? Are there plans for incapacity, including Long-Term Care insurance? If they needed to be moved to a long-term facility, how would the cost be covered?
Another reason to have this conversation with family now is your own retirement planning. The cost of caring for an ailing parent can derail even the best retirement plan in a matter of months.
Define roles among siblings. Who will serve as power of attorney and manage mom’s finances? Who will be the executor after death? Where are all of the necessary documents? If the last will and testament is locked in a safe deposit box and no one can gain access to it, how will the family manage to follow their parent’s wishes?
Find any old wills and see If trusts were established when children were young. If an estate plan was created years ago and the children are now adults, it’s likely all of the documents need to be revised. Review any trusts with an estate planning attorney. Those children who were protected by trusts so many years ago may now be ready to serve as executor, trustees, power of attorney or health care surrogate.
Usually, a complete understanding of the parent’s wishes and reasons behind their estate plan takes more than a single conversation. Some of the issues may require detailed discussion, or family members may need time to process the information. However, as long as the parents are living, the conversation should continue.
Scheduling an annual family meeting, often with the family’s estate planning attorney present, can help everyone set long-term goals and foster healthy family relationships for multiple generations.