How to speak with your parents about their estate plan

Written by: Jennifer Guimond-Quigley

Estate planning is a topic that can be difficult for all of us. Even more difficult is approaching this topic with one’s own aging parents.  Perhaps there is a feeling that the parent will misconstrue the intent behind the conversation.  Or, maybe there are mixed feelings about whether it’s appropriate for the child to approach this topic because it signifies a role reversal in the relationship that the parents find disconcerting.  However, there are ways for adult children to lightly broach the subject that should open up an honest dialogue without seeming pushy, intrusive, or condescending.

The most natural way to approach the topic is by directing the conversation to your own experiences.  A simple statement such as “We just completed/reviewed/revised (insert appropriate verb here) our estate plan and it prompted me to ask you – do you have everything in place?”  You can also share a story with your parent about you or someone you know that was involved in the administration of an estate because there was no estate plan in place.  Once the dialogue is open, you can then start to find out why the plan hasn’t been completed and let them know why you believe it would be a good idea to do so.

Even if an estate plan is in place, it needs to be communicated to the children or reviewed to ensure that it still reflects the parent’s wishes and circumstances.  Or (more likely) there may be nothing in place and the parent or parents are just hoping that the kids will come together and sort it all out when the time comes.  It’s important to point out to our parents that the default plan is never a good one as it carries with it, minimally, an invitation for litigation and excessive costs that can be avoided with the proper plan.   Reduced litigation and administrative costs equals more estate funds for the beneficiaries, which is likely what the parents want.

Additionally, if cost is an issue, tell parents the truth.  The cost to put a plan into place is almost always cheaper than the costs involved in administering an intestate estate. Further, children will often pitch in to assist their parents with the financial component of a plan.   As long as the children realize that the attorney’s duty is to the parent(s) and the parent(s) are the client, it is ethically permissible for the attorney to receive payment for services from the children.

Now that the topic has been broached, here are some discussion points that can foster and encourage  an  open  dialogue  so  that  parents  actually take the next  step and complete the estate planning process:

  • “We want to be able to spend our time grieving and focusing on all of our happy memories instead of stressing about the administration of your estate.”
  • “We want to make sure everything is done correctly and according to your specific wishes.”
  • “Without guidance from you, we just wouldn’t know where to start.”

The end result of this important conversation should be a realization by your parents that: 1) their opinion matters to you; 2) they can ease the burden on their children and minimize expenses with a proper plan; and 3) with an  open  dialogue started, they  can  (if they  wish) get  your  input  and  desires when  shaping their  plan.

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Posted on April 01, 2013 at 2:23 PM