Conversations about death and dying are rarely fun. Most people avoid them because they invoke feelings about our inevitable demise. Broaching your parents' estate planning can be particularly difficult for parents and their adult children. You might keep putting this conversation off as you deal with your own children and professional lives. Or you may avoid the topic because you don't want to think about your parents’ mortality. Alternatively, you may also want to avoid sounding as though you are waiting for your parents to die. But, this is a crucial conversation you don't want to avoid.
Despite these valid challenges, as an estate planning attorney in Austin, I recommend that you not avoid the topic. Your parents will die at some point. Their plan to care for their money and property when they pass away will preserve their legacy. Careful planning will help them care for those they love most. By having this difficult conversation you empower your parents to have a voice regarding their end-of-life decisions. Or when they can no longer make financial or medical decisions for themselves. Due to technological advancements, more people are likely to experience still being alive but unable to make decisions for themselves. State law governs what happens without conversations about these scenarios and a legal delegation of decision-making authority. Those default rules may not reflect your parents’ wishes. Failure to have your parents’ wishes properly documented may result expensive and time-consuming court processes.
Once you understand the consequences of not having those conversations, the next question is, how do you raise the issue with your parents? There are several different approaches, though no particular one is necessarily better than any other. The following are some key ideas to keep in mind if you want to have this conversation with your parents.
If you are trying to persuade your parents to talk about completing an estate plan, the last thing you want is to make the process and yourself an annoyance. Instead of engaging in a productive conversation, you may inadvertently create an atmosphere where your parents start avoiding you or become suspicious of your motives. If your parents hesitate to have these conversations, explore ways to bring up the topic without leaving them with their guards up.
Being truthful about your worries is a significant challenge when discussing what will happen to your parents when they die or if they lose the ability to make decisions for themselves. Every family is imperfect, and often, areas of concern indicate delicate family situations. To facilitate the best conversations about estate planning and achieve effective planning for your parents and their legacy, you must address the awkward family issues. You must ask the difficult questions now when your parents can provide their insights.
Also, it is essential to have all the necessary parties, such as siblings, stepchildren, new spouses, and former spouses, involved. As your parents embark on these conversations, let them know that you support them. Prioritize understanding their wishes and helping them to protect those desires.
Ensuring that all the parties involved are generally in good health is another consideration. Having these conversations after someone’s health is compromised may result in hasty or reckless decision-making. In those situations, attempts to think deeply about a plan for what happens to your parents, their property, and concerns regarding their health may blur their legacy.
Find out what your parents want and hope for concerning estate planning. Do not make assumptions. Be direct and ask them what their ideal situation is. What they say may surprise you. Even if you have had no previous conversations of this nature with them, that does not mean they lack a clear idea of how they see things occurring in the future. The problem is that they may not have the plans to realize their vision. Asking them about what they want brings them one step closer to making their dream a reality.
In many cases, parents do some estate planning when they start their family and never update it. Therefore, your parents may have some documents about what should happen if they can no longer make decisions for themselves or if they die. Still, the documents are no longer relevant because they do not address the changes in the family over time. As a result, asking them about what they have done in the past is a critical component of effective conversation with your parents. Specifically, ask your parents if they have any of the following documents—and if they do, they should review them:
Finally, it is critical to address how your parents will build their legacy through their children (you and your siblings) and grandchildren. A common sentiment among grandparents is that grandchildren are their reward for not letting their children drive them crazy, so they often have a significant desire to provide special allocations for their grandchildren. The form and method require serious consideration, given the unique dynamics between children and grandchildren. Explore how your parents want their money and property distributed and whether your childless siblings will receive less. Again, navigating this area requires remarkable tact and wisdom.
Suppose you approach your parents about end-of-life planning, and you can all have transparent conversations about the topics addressed above. In that case, you will be establishing the proper foundation for effective estate planning.
Suppose you feel overwhelmed by the steps discussed above. You would like a neutral party to help facilitate the conversation and provide guidance regarding how the estate planning system works. In that case, our lawyers are available to help. Schedule a virtual meeting with us to begin the process.
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