Talking to your parents about their estate plan is a shift in traditional parent-child roles. Instead of taking care of you, you’re thinking about taking care of your parents and their needs. This change in roles can make both parties uncomfortable. This discomfort can cause emotional reactions and feelings of defensiveness.
When you decide to talk to your parents about estate planning, it’s important to have in mind what you want to say, how you’ll say it, and to follow our tips to have a more constructive conversation.
You should seek the help of an estate planning attorney to support both you and your parents when you discuss their estate plan. The attorney can explain to your parents how the estate plan will protect them and their children.
The Importance of Estate Planning For Your Parents
An estate plan contains a series of documents used by family members upon your incapacity and death, to understand and execute your wishes. Without an estate plan or will, your family may not know or remember your wishes. Your family might also be subjected to court intervention to assist you with your medical care and finances during incapacity and upon death, your estate may go through probate which is expensive and stressful. Every client I’ve ever had go through probate in California tells me they never want their family to have to go through what they did.
You need a skilled estate planning attorney to draft documents that will be legally enforceable, particularly if you have siblings you think will challenge any of the decisions your parents are making. One of the most important things your parents should know is that naming co-trustees in their Trust is a recipe for disaster. It is one of the greatest causes of litigation which is great for the attorneys who enjoy trust litigation but not great for the clients as it is stressful and expensive.
You also want the attorney to explain what happens if they become incapacitated and don’t have a financial power of attorney and Advance Health Care Directive. Most families mistakenly believe their children will just help them. However, they won’t be able to until after they petition the court to be appointed as conservator of their person and/or estate.
How to Talk to Your Parents About Estate Planning — 6 Effective Tips
While no one wants to have “the talk” with their parents about finances, it’s imperative that you know their wishes, where to find important documents, and how to access different assets.
Though talking to your parents about estate planning is intimidating, there are a few ways you can make it easier for yourself and for your parents.
1. Understand that This is a Delicate Subject For Your Parents
Your parents have taken care of you, taught you good behaviors, and offered guidance to you your whole life. As your parents begin to age, those roles switch. Discussing finances with your parents is a delicate, but necessary subject.
Recognize that your parents might be embarrassed by how they’ve managed their finances or may simply be uncomfortable discussing their finances with you as it’s a subject they were taught to keep private.
No matter why they’re uncomfortable, if you’re cognizant of that discomfort, you’ll have a more productive conversation. Be empathetic and sensitive in your word choices and try not to offer judgment on your parents’ past decisions. This sensitivity can go a long way to creating a conducive environment for a successful conversation. If you’ve had friends or family go through probate, you can remind them of how stressful and expensive this was for the family and let them know you just want to make sure that you are in a position to help them should they ever need it.
2. Set Up an Appointment to Explain Your Intentions
An estate planning conversation is best held at a scheduled time when all parties are prepared to have the conversation. Springing this conversation on your parents without warning could cause them to react by shutting down.
Setting an appointment to consult with an estate planning law firm and an estate planning attorney can also give the conversation a formal feeling and structure. By setting an appointment with your parents to discuss their estate planning and wishes, you’re creating space for dialog and giving everyone time to think through their intentions prior to the meeting.
Having a conversation about an estate plan spur of the moment can create an emotional instead of logical conversation. Having a neutral third party educate them on the law and the consequences of failing to plan should leave your parents thanking you for having the maturity to have this difficult conversation.
3. Let Your Parents Think and Decide What Their Wishes Are
During your conversation with your parents about their estate plan, make sure that you’re not leading them to make decisions you want them to make, but that they’re making their own decisions.
Allowing your parents to decide their own wishes surrounding their estate plan allows them to maintain their independence. If you try to persuade your parents to make different choices in their estate plan than they want to, it can create discord and feelings of resentment. It can also lead to challenges by other siblings if your parents were at a vulnerable place in life, you set the meeting, and now you have ended up with a disproportionate share or control.
The presence of an estate planning attorney can help all parties to remain calm and respectful of the others wishes. The estate planning attorney will also document their file in a way that supports the estate plan in the event it is ever challenged and can advise them on the best way to achieve their goals.
4. Be Kind and Empathize With Them
These are your parents, the people who raised you and taught you much of what you know of the world. Remember, even if they are aging or their health is declining, it is their life and their assets and what is important is that they get to have as much control as possible in making these important decisions.
5. Try The ACE Technique: Ask, Confirm and Encourage
I’ve found that one of the most effective strategies in successful dialog over sensitive subjects, such as estate planning, is the ACE technique. This technique gives you three steps: Ask, Confirm, Encourage.
Ask: Ask your parents what their thoughts are on a certain subject.
Confirm: Confirm that you understood what they said by repeating it back to them in your own words.
Encourage: Encourage them that their idea is a good one by helping them to put the decision in place and act upon it.
By following those three steps, you’re ensuring that your parents are making their own decisions and you’re validating those decisions. The ACE technique makes difficult conversations just a little bit easier.
6. Skip Uncomfortable Subjects
When you’re talking about estate planning, most everything is uncomfortable. Planning your estate requires you to talk about three sensitive topics: death, money, and family dynamics.
If you ask your parents a question that makes them particularly uncomfortable or there’s a certain topic that’s sensitive, skip it. You don’t have to answer every question or solve every problem in your first estate planning meeting. You’ll likely need to have multiple meetings. Keep in mind too that you will need to sit outside of the meeting for at least part of it. The estate planning attorney must speak to your parent privately for at least part of the meeting to confirm that they are making these decisions independently. This is a good thing for everyone. It protects the integrity of the estate plan if it is ever challenged.
Examples of Sentences That Can Help to Make Your Parents More Comfortable With Financial Conversations
Here are a few sentences to have in your back pocket in preparation to talk to your parents about their finances and estate plan:
- “I love you and want to support you in following your wishes about your finances and healthcare throughout the rest of your life.”
- “I’m here to support you but want to make sure your wishes are put down in writing.”
- “I can imagine that it’s uncomfortable to talk about your finances but I’m not here to pass judgment, simply to make sure there is a plan in place so that I or whomever you nominate can make sure your legacy is protected when you pass away.”
- “I’m working on the estate plan for my family. Do you have any tips to share on how you created your plan or what decisions you made?”
Focusing on using “I” statements over “you” statements help you to be empathetic and kind when talking about uncomfortable financial topics.
Finding the Best Estate Planning Attorney For Your Parents
Having a conversation with your parents about their estate plan is intimidating. Hiring the best estate planning attorney can make that conversation a little bit easier.
When you work with an estate planning attorney, you have the support of a second party and you have their legal knowledge at hand. Although most clients say they just need a simple will or that their situation is really simple, let the attorney be the judge of that. There are probably a lot of issues you and your parents have not even considered. Estate planning is a unique area of law that even other attorneys who don’t practice in this field are unfamiliar with.
If you’re interested in hiring an estate planning attorney, you can get a Free Consultation With The Best Estate Planning Law Firm in California. To set up your free consultation with an estate planning attorney, contact Kam Law Firm today.