Have you had “The Talk” with Your Parents?
When I speak to groups about probate and estate planning, I often get asked the question, “Should I talk with my parents about this?” When I tell them “Yes,” the next question is, “How do I do that?”
The first question is easy to answer. Everyone needs to know the potential risks and consequences of not having an estate plan. So, that applies to our parents just like it applies to the rest of us. The difficulty is how to bring it up.
In general, there is never a “good” time to bring it up. Add to that family dynamics and generational differences and it can get sticky fast. But what you don’t want to do is wait until that diagnosis comes up or until one of them is in the hospital to start talking about the subject.
An easy opener is blaming it on us. For instance, “I heard an attorney speak last week…” or “My attorneys mentioned in their monthly newsletter…” This can get the conversation started. But, even before that, you need to spend some time checking in with yourself on the reason it is important. The fear is that Mom and Dad will think you’re after their money or anxious for them to die. Of course, that is not your motivation. But you need to be able to articulate the true reason why it is important to you. There are three good reasons (and many more you may come up with) that you need your parents to think about estate planning.
- What happens if they become ill or incapacitated, even if it’s temporary?
Who would pay their bills? Who would make medical decisions for them if they couldn’t? Would the doctors be legally able to talk with you or other family members about their conditions or treatments?
This can be a very scary time and it is made scarier when you can’t get information or assist in the treatment of someone you love.
- Once they are gone, do they want their estate to go through probate, which is a matter of public record?
Because of modern technology, anything that is public record is on the internet. That means that information about their family and their estate could be accessed by anyone who has a program to pull that kind of information. The result is, the family is bombarded with offers from various businesses, legitimate and otherwise. And it is often difficult to tell what is legitimate and what is a scam. This puts extra pressure on the family while they are in the midst of grieving.
- What are your specific family dynamics?
Are there any tense relationships? Are there any questions about what Mom and Dad want? Is there a blended family situation (i.e. step-children)? Does anyone in the family have special needs? Is there anyone who would not handle what they receive wisely?
If you answer any of these questions with a “yes”, that is all the more reason to have the conversation with your parents. The holidays may or may not be the best time to bring it up, but we wanted you to be thinking about it as family gathers. You might be able to get your siblings on board so that it is a family discussion. And, remember, it still might not go as you would like. But at least trying to approach the subject now is better than regretting later that you didn’t.
Susan Barnett, JD, of Haiman Hogue