Many of us remember getting “the talk” from our parents when we were teenagers, an awkward but arguably necessary conversation. As we age, “the talk” can drastically change form. For example, a common discussion many people avoid is talking to their parents, children, or loved ones about estate planning.
Setting up a Last Will and Testament, Powers of Attorney, and other documents are a great step in the right direction, but failing to discuss parts of your plans with key people can lead to trouble. Examples of non-negotiable conversations include:
- Ensuring the people you name as a guardian of your minor children are willing to step in and care for your children if something happens to you; and
- Ensuring the individuals you name as the Executor or Trustee of your plans are willing and capable of taking on such a great responsibility.
Once the plan is signed, the discussion can become more difficult. To illustrate, if a parent is disinheriting a child, most clients aren’t going to disclose this to the disinherited child. However, depending upon the reason for the disinheritance and the family dynamics, a client may be well advised to shed some light on the estate plan. For example, if you disinherit a child because the child has not seen or talked to you in years, you’re not going to track down the estranged child to tell them this; however, you may be well advised to let your other children or loved ones know about the disinheritance. On the other hand, if the child is disinherited because you’ve already given that child a lot of money during your lifetime and desire to treat the children somewhat equally, it may be a good idea to let the disinherited child know that while you love them, they should not expect to receive any inheritance because they’ve already essentially received it.
Of course, if you’re part of a blended family or have children who do not get along with each other, the art of talking to each child individually should be approached with care. Often in these cases, clients will have their loved ones meet with me so I can explain how their parents have created their plan, the intentions behind the plan, and that the point of the meeting is to be upfront and avoid surprises, while most importantly respecting their parents’ wishes.
On the flip side, it can be just as difficult – if not more – for a child to approach the topic with their parents. Understandably, well-intentioned adult children may fear offending their parents or appearing as greedy if they ask their parents about their estate plans (or lack thereof). However, if approached correctly, the conversation is almost always beneficial for both the child and the parent.
Estate planning is not reserved for the very wealthy. To the contrary, many estate plans are as simple as powers of attorney and a Last Will and Testament. Regardless of the amount of wealth involved, I encourage children to not ask about values or specific amounts. Rather, ask only the most important questions to respect the parent’s wishes. Following are a list of questions you might start with:
- If you become ill, who do you want as your primary caregiver?
- What are your medical care preferences in terms of healthcare, burial, cremation, etc?
- How will we pay for your health care expenses?
- Do you have legal documents explaining how you want us to handle your property when you die? If so, where do you keep those documents?
- Do you have a list of logins and passwords for your digital assets?
- Do you have any personal items you want to be handled in a particular way?
Just as we all survived the awkward “talk” when we were young, we’ll survive and likely learn from these evolving discussions later in life.
The information contained above is for informational purposes only, and is not legal advice or a substitute for legal counsel. You should not act or rely upon this information.