Tips for Talking To Your Aging Parents About Estate Planning

An elderly woman speaking with a younger woman at a table

There is one guarantee in life that none of us can escape: We will all die someday. If we’re lucky enough, we’ll do this when we’re old, slipping peacefully away in our sleep, but inevitably, it will happen to each of us. Unfortunately, too many of us pass away without leaving a will or other instructions to our loved ones to speak for us when we no longer can, and this can cause hardship and stress for friends and family at an already difficult time.


Approximately 50 percent of Americans die without a will. This lack of advanced planning can cause enormous emotional and financial strain on those left to pick up the pieces. They must not only deal with a loved one’s estate after they pass away but also must cope with advanced illness and mental incapacity in the weeks, months, or years leading up to the transition.


Anticipating a parent’s aging and death is not an easy process, and for this and other reasons, many people avoid discussing estate planning with their loved ones. However, as the baby boomer generation ages, many adult children find themselves in precarious financial situations as they struggle to cope with their aging parents’ health care needs and funeral arrangements. Or they find themselves in desperate situations with incapacitated parents who have left behind no advance healthcare directives.


Further, scrambling to find documents, make arrangements, and paying for care may come on the back of balancing grief, work, and family life and can cause irreparable damage among siblings who disagree on what mom or dad’s wishes may have been. Such family discord would not be the wishes of the parents for the adult children they leave behind.


There is likely to be a great deal of stress, grief, and even family disputes at the passing of a parent, no matter how in-depth they go into advanced planning. However, families can mitigate a lot of it by taking the time to learn about their aging parents’ wishes and the essential elements of their estate and advance care plans.


What Estate Planning Have They Done So Far?

Do your parents have a will? A trust? Accounts with named beneficiaries or pay-on-death or transfer-on-death accounts? Joint accounts with rights of survivorship?

It’s important to know what your parents have done so that you’ll understand what will happen with their assets after they die. You’ll also want to know who your parents have chosen to execute their estate, as the executor will be the one taking charge of all your parents’ assets on their death. 


Why Advanced Planning for Incapacity Is Vital

End-of-life planning isn’t just about estate planning; it also includes advance care planning. Advance care planning means planning for the possibility that your parents might become physically incapacitated or mentally unsound, resulting in them being unable to make decisions for themselves.


It’s crucial to talk to your parents while they’re still healthy about what their wishes would be if these things happen because they’ll be unable to tell you what they want once incapacitated. If you wait to have this conversation, it may be too late. Do not wait until you see the obvious signs of memory loss, dementia, or Alzheimer’s. Once this occurs, it may be too late, and your parents may not meet the legal standard to sign these documents.


However, planning for these eventualities is more than just knowing what your parents would want. It also means having a set of legal documents, called “advance directives,” in place that can speak for your parents when they can’t.

Without advance directives, doctors may be unable to speak with you about your parents’ condition. They may give your parents treatment they wouldn’t have wanted, and your parents may find themselves in a situation without the financial means to be cared for in their time of need.


Have the Conversation When Your Parents Are Healthy

I advise that you don’t wait until your parents are no longer mentally or physically capable of telling you what they want. For many of the decisions you may have to make, it will be too late if you wait. Have the conversation now before you need the answers.


Tips On How To Talk To Your Parents


  1. Be Patient

This conversation is likely to be an ongoing one with your parents and not an isolated event. Think about when the right time to bring up the conversation might be and consider doing it a little at a time.


  1. Be Transparent With Other Family Members

Try to include siblings in the conversation so it won’t seem as though you’re trying to be controlling or secretive. It will also help avoid family disputes and ensure everyone is on the same page. Remember, you aren’t trying to ask about your inheritance; you’re merely attempting to understand your parents’ wishes so that when the time comes, you’ll know how to make the appropriate decisions.


  1. Keep Notes

Because this will be an ongoing conversation, your parents may change their minds about their wishes. Keep a record of any wishes so you’ll have those notes to refer to later. Remember that, no matter what your parents tell you they want when it comes to designating who gets what, none of that will matter and will not be enforceable unless written down in a will.


  1. Don’t Pressure

This discussion is not the time to argue over who gets what or attempt to right past wrongs. Remember, the purpose of the conversation is to ease the financial and emotional strain of end-of-life decisions, not create more.


Consult An Attorney

No one likes to talk about dying, and it can be challenging for adult children to contemplate their parents’ aging and death. The loss of a parent is never easy, and the grief process can be profound and ongoing. That emotional difficulty becomes compounded, though, if one or more of your parents experience physical or mental incapacity or die without you understanding their wishes, having the necessary legal documents in place, or knowing where you can find them when needed.


Give us a call today at (206) 926-9848. We can help mediate the conversation and suggest topics for discussion you may not have thought of otherwise.

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