How to talk with aging parents about estate planning

estate-planningMany people are concerned about their aging parents and want to talk with them about estate planning, but this can be a difficult conversation to have. Frequently, parents don’t want to discuss the subject because they don’t like thinking about their own death, and because they’re afraid that estate planning will involve a loss of independence and control. Also, children may be afraid that bringing up the topic will make them seem greedy.

Yet this is one of the most important conversations a family can have. Parents who don’t engage in estate planning risk losing their assets to taxes, having their assets go to people they wouldn’t have chosen, and making it difficult for their children to care for them and make the right decisions in an emergency.

So what’s the best way for children to broach this difficult topic?

One of the best ways to begin is to make sure that your own estate planning is in order. You should execute a will, a durable power of attorney, and an advance medical directive. Then you can talk to your parents in a non-threatening way about what you’ve done and what you’ve learned in the process. Often, this will lead naturally to your parents thinking and talking with you about the same issues in their own life.

It’s not always a good idea to ask parents directly if they have made a will. This can be awkward and may make parents feel afraid of their own mortality. A better approach may be to begin by asking if your parents have a power of attorney or a medical directive, so that someone can make decisions for them and help them if they have a temporary disability.

If your parents are still reluctant to discuss the subject, you might consider approaching a trusted friend of the family and asking them to bring up the topic and gently suggest a family dialogue.

In a crisis, it’s very helpful to know where your parents keep important documents, such as insurance policies, bank statements, tax documents, deeds, etc., as well as keys to a safe deposit box. If your parents don’t want to share these with you, you might want to ask them to make a list and let you know how you can access it in an emergency.

After a discussion, your parents might ask you to make an appointment for them with an attorney. You should be aware that if you do so, your parents will be the clients, not you, so it will be up to your parents how much of what they discuss can be disclosed to you.