For most of us, estate planning is one of the most challenging topics to discuss with our parents. Even broaching the subject can seem daunting. Despite the challenging nature of this subject, it is one of the most important conversations we can have with our parents. Having a thorough estate plan in place can mitigate confusion and anxiety at the end of one's life and avoid unnecessary legal fees, taxes, and delays in the dispersion of assets.
The first time our estate plans are likely to come into play will be near the end of our lives and involve decisions concerning our health and finances. These can include what type of medical treatment we want, how the elderly will pay for it, how long, or even if we want to be kept on a life support system. Financial decisions can include reducing taxes when our assets are transferred to our heirs.
After we have passed, our estate plans dictate funeral service arrangements, what will happen to our remains, and how our assets will be distributed. Some people want to leave clear instructions while others leave the decision-making up to relatives or close friends. The most important thing to remember is to choose people who are best suited for the tasks we ask them to carry out.
Preparing for your estate planning conversation with your parents will help you broach the subject and make the most of it. Here are some things to consider.
Being familiar with the primary estate plan documents and what they are for will allow you to help them create an outline of how they want their estate plan to function. One way to become familiar with the documents is to create an estate plan for yourself. Having your estate plan could also be an excellent way to encourage your parents to create theirs.
Involving other family members, such as your siblings, can create a more collaborative environment and help move the process forward more quickly.
Starting the estate planning conversation soon is key for ensuring the best plan is in place. If you are unsure how to get the conversation going, you may want to schedule an initial consultation with an estate planning attorney for your parents.
When you are ready to initiate the conversation with your parents, it may help to start by asking them if they already have any estate planning documents, then proceed in the order situations may arise. Some questions to consider are:
Do you have any estate plan documents? If so, where do you keep them?
Who do you want to make health care decisions for you? Do you want one person to serve as your health care agent at a time, or do you want two or more people to serve simultaneously?
What are your medical and end-of-life preferences?
After your death, how do you want your tangible and intangible assets distributed? Who do you want to oversee the distribution of your assets?
Since estate planning is a dynamic process and needs to evolve as conditions change, the estate planning conversation will need to be revisited if, for example, people named in the plan pass away or if a property is sold. Though talking about and creating estate plans can seem daunting, it is helpful to emphasize that one of the most valuable aspects of a thoughtful estate plan is that it gives all involved peace of mind as they move through the end of their loved one's life.
This article offers a summary of aspects of estate planning law. It is not legal advice, and it does not create an attorney-client relationship. For legal advice, you should contact an attorney.