Your parents have no doubt had difficult conversations with you over the years. Talks about academic or social problems, conversations about your unacceptable behavior, discussions about dating and sex. Now, as you see them aging, if they are not preparing for the future, it’s your turn to bring up the challenging topic of estate planning. When you do, it will help immeasurably to remember how defensive and uncomfortable you felt when you were on the other side of such a “talk.” Do everything possible to put them at ease.
#1. Don’t Make Them Feel Guilty About Not Addressing This Matter Sooner
Since you want to make them feel as little stress as possible, don’t accuse them of procrastinating if you just found out that they have not yet made a will, assigned a power of attorney, or signed a health care proxy. The object is to help them take steps to do these things now; berating or embarrassing them will be counterproductive.
#2. Discuss the Most Crucial Things First; Not Everything Has to Be Decided Now
The first conversation should be about the things that need to be done most promptly, such as signing foundational documents that will cover them if there is an emergency. For example, make them aware that they should sign a HIPAA form so that if a medical event occurs, family members will have access to vital health care information. Similarly, they should designate someone to take care of their financial matters if they become temporarily incapacitated by signing a power of attorney.
#3. Get Informed About the Basics
It’s always smart to know enough about your subject to be convincing. For instance, it will help to know something about what will happen if your parents die without a will (intestate) if you want to convince them that making a will is essential. You don’t have to become an expert, you just have to show that you are making an effort because you believe in the importance of getting the estate planning process underway.
#4. Practice What You Preach
The most persuasive argument you have is to tell your parents that you are doing your own estate planning now, even though you are considerably younger than they are. This proves that you are investing time in estate planning as an efficient way of preparing for the future and the only reliable method to protect your assets and your family.
#5. Have the Name of a Well-Respected Estate Planning Attorney at the Ready
Whether you have planned your estate yet or not, do enough research to be able to recommend a skilled estate planning attorney in the area. Depending on the nature of your relationship with your parents and on their particular age and circumstances, it may be a good idea to offer to join them at their first consultation with the lawyer. If the lawyer is someone you already know and trust, all the better. This will give them increased confidence and make them feel more relaxed.
Remember, the “hard conversation” need not be difficult if you approach it in a matter-of-fact way. Estate planning is not only about mortality; it is about taking control of your life — planning for retirement, preparing for contingencies, protecting your assets from excessive taxation and scams, and seeing to it that those you love will be safe and secure if you are not able to be there for them. If you are in Southeastern Massachusetts, contact the reliable practice of Surprenant & Beneski for responsive, empathic legal counsel.