Written by Robert T. Nickerson
Gather around kids! It's time to let you all in on a little secret…your no longer children. In fact, a lot of Millennials are almost about to hit the forty year old mark. This means that mom and dad, who are most likely boomers, will want to have a chat with you. It'll definitely involve the future, but more importantly, it'll involve some difficult topics. No one wants to think about their mortality, but this is why I have to stress the eminent of an estate plan.
To make it clear, an estate plan is NOT something that designates in which assets will be inherited by whom. That is the responsibility of a will. What the real goal of an estate plan does is that it sets in stone with who will be the one to make decisions in the matter of something happening to mom or dad that makes them incapable of doing so. This is done so that in case of a medical emergency, the adult child can focus more time on making medical choices instead of fighting with the rest of the family over whose in charge. With no estate plan, the court usually has to get involved, which only becomes a complicated and expensive process.
Which documents do I need?
So I'm sure you've heard of a will. That’s the piece of paper that specifies how your loved one's assets are distributed to everyone. That’s a necessary part of an estate plan, but there's a lot more to it that makes it a big deal. Documents that are a part of estate plans include a power of attorney, a healthcare proxy and a living will. All of these things are key to set someone up do not only make the medical decisions, but also handle the financial choices. This means the person can pay bills, deal with insurance and make necessary purchases. This is something needed, especially if a parent or loved one has a family history of dementia or Alzheimer's.
You are also going to need to know where a lot of these things are. Chances are, your parents will have them in physical format, but a lot more are being placed in digital format. For the latter, I recommend having a master document that has all the passwords to important websites or cloud servers where the documents are stored. Digital records are gonna be a major help in the most dire of situations.
How do we have this conversation?
Now is the time to not mess around and wait. I understand that this is a topic that be sensitive and even upsetting. The key is to bring up the topic that doesn't avoid anxiety, but eases it. So my first piece of advice is how you approach it.
Rather then saying,
"Your getting old, we need to set up an estate plan so that were ready when you die"
Try saying something like.
"Nothing lasts forever. I want us to be ready for anything. By getting an estate plan prepared, it'll be less stressful in the long run. We won't have to think about it for a while"
Another way to approach it is to make it something you want for you more then they'll want it.
Rather then saying,
"I'm concerned for you and think you need this."
"My girlfriend and I have looked into getting an estate plan and think its something you should have too. It'll ensure my own piece of mind and prepare me for my own."
While I don't recommend scare tactics to encourage anyone to get an estate plan, it might not hurt towards the end of the conversation, like an exclamation point, to exemplify an importance because of _________________. A family history of dementia? A car accident that’s caused medical issues? Save those for the end, not the beginning of the conversation.
What if they won't listen?
I've seen this a lot. An adult or two will go to their parents and ask about an estate plan. And the only response is, "We don't talk about that yet!" or "Don't worry, your father and I aren’t going anywhere". There isn't a lot you can do. Pressing about it is something I don't recommend. It'll only create more anger and resentment. My best advice is to lay off it…for a little bit. Try approaching them again after a couple of months and ease into the talk. It just so happens that even if only a little progress can be made, it's still progress. Groundwork always leads to building.
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Jeffrey C. Nickerson - Estate Planning Attorney - My Passion is Special Needs Planning!