On behalf of John Gianino
The Federal Citizen Information Center notes that it is unfortunate that so many people believe that estate planning is only for the wealthy. In reality, people at all economic levels-and of all ages-can benefit from having an estate plan. It is also unfortunate that a surprising number of adult children have no real idea whether or not their parents have an estate plan. A Merrill Lynch study revealed that 70 percent of respondents age 25 and older had never had an in-depth discussion with their parents about their estate planning objectives. In addition, over half of those age 50 and older had not discussed estate planning with their adult children.
Initiating a discussion about estate planning objectives is not always easy. Many elderly people can be quite private and are often reluctant to bring up the issue of whether they have an estate plan and-if so-what its objectives are. Likewise, children often dread the thought of initiating a conversation about whether their parents have an estate plan. As noted on the CBS News website, many adult children procrastinate about bringing up financially related issues to their parents for fear that they will be viewed as “making a grab for their cash.”
As difficult as it might be to initiate a conversation about estate planning, having an open discussion may be crucial to ensuring that your parents’ finances will be properly managed-should they become incapacitated-and that their estate planning wishes are followed. A financial expert interviewed for the CBS News article noted that having a conversation with your parents about their finances, memorial wishes and estate planning objectives is one of the best things you can do for them. If a health issue suddenly arose with an elderly parent, the lack of estate planning guidance can throw a family into a state of confusion because no one is sure what their mother and father may have desired.
Holding a meeting
The Family Education website observes that you should never go behind the backs of your siblings to assist your parents in their estate planning. This could be interpreted as greed. If you want to ensure future family harmony, be above board about your intentions. It is an excellent idea to invite the full participation of your siblings.
Once it is determined to take the plunge and talk to your parents about their estate planning objectives, you need to approach those discussions with sensitivity and a respect for your parents’ privacy. One way of beginning the conversation is to acknowledge that you fully understand that the property and money they acquired through their hard work is theirs and not yours. Emphasize that advance planning ultimately keeps them in control of how their assets are to be spent and/or distributed.
During the conversation, it is wise to ask if your parents have, at minimum, the following estate planning documents: (1) advance directive; (2) will; (3) living trust; and (4) durable power of attorney. If they do not have these documents, you can explain the benefits of each and encourage that they give careful thought to having these documents drawn up.
Seek legal assistance
If you believe that your parents could benefit from estate planning, you should encourage them to consult with a Massachusetts attorney experienced in preparing estate plans. An attorney will be happy to sit down with them and discuss their financial and estate planning objectives.