The truth is that no one really enjoys talking about estate and end-of-life planning, especially parents. It can feel like a sudden and drastic dynamic shift—suddenly, it’s the child who’s ensuring that their parents are making the right decisions. It’s understandably uncomfortable for everyone involved, and children hesitate to broach the subject because they don’t want to come off as greedy.
However, if your parents want their final wishes respected, everyone must be on the same page, which means sitting down and having an open and honest conversation. If you’re unsure how to approach the topic or don’t know what to say, you’re not alone. Many children don’t know how to talk with their parents about estate planning. Fortunately, a few tips and strategies can help you have the conversation and walk away with better peace of mind.
Don’t Put Off the Conversation
Again, it’s understandable that this conversation may feel uncomfortable, but talking about it sooner rather than later will put everyone in a better position. If you wait until an emergency occurs and they become incapacitated, ensuring their will is valid in court might be difficult. For example, if they begin to lose some of their mental faculties due to age or dementia, it can be hard to prove that they wrote their estate plan “in their right mind.” This leaves their will and estate plan vulnerable to contention.
Set Time Aside To Have a Discussion
Avoid approaching the subject randomly. Remember: you’re discussing what will happen after your parents pass. It’s normal for someone to immediately wall up, so don’t be surprised if they resist talking about the subject. Instead, ask them how they feel about the subject and if they’d feel comfortable talking about it. If they’re okay with discussing it, set aside some private time. If not, consider asking them again privately later. You may have to slowly chip away at these barriers, which, again, means that starting sooner is best.
Talk as a Family
To avoid future troubles and disagreements, try and have the conversation as a family. Of course, this doesn’t mean you have to involve the whole family tree, but if you have siblings, be sure to include them. This can also help those who feel like talking about it not seem selfish or too eager. When everyone is involved, it makes it clear that you’re in it to respect your parents’ wishes and that you’re acting in their best interests.
Remain Open and Empathetic
Remember, this is not an easy conversation for anyone to have, and even if your parents don’t openly show it, they may be struggling internally. While they shouldn’t lash out or disrespect you, understand that if they do, it may be because they’re struggling with the idea of their mortality. Now is the best time to practice patience. Show them that, while you may not be able to understand exactly what they’re going through, you’re here to listen and be honest with one another. Additionally, if they sense any hidden intentions, no matter how well you may mean, this will also cause their defenses to go up.
Center the Conversation Around Them
Estate planning is mostly about managing the disposal of a person’s estate while they’re alive so the executor can properly allocate their property and finances upon their death. However, there is much more to it than money and property. There’s also the matter of assigning Powers of Attorney (POAs) to enact their best wishes, delegate financial affairs, and make medical decisions. Unless your parents have given you certain legal powers and they become incapacitated, you cannot make decisions for them, and what they choose is final. Therefore, it’s best to center the conversation around them and their final wishes—the rest will follow.
Remind Them That They’re Not Alone
Setting up an estate plan, as well as a final will and testament, can be a scary thing. It can also be a complex legal process. This can be overwhelming for anyone, and your parents will need the right support and safety net to help them through the process. While they may reject your help or want to remain private about their plan, at the very least, they know you’re there for them if they need it.
Make Sure They Have the Right Documents
Your parents should at least have a will, a document that designates a power of attorney, and a living will or healthcare directive. If they don’t have these basic documents, executing their wishes becomes very difficult. The will might go through probate without the proper arrangements. If their will goes through probate, then the court supervises the process of transferring property and finances. This can be a lengthy, costly, and invasive process if the right documents aren’t in order.
Know Where the Documents Are Located
Many people want to keep their will as private as possible, so some people may keep a physical copy under lock and key or a digital copy hidden behind passwords. Ideally, the documents will be with an attorney, but this isn’t always the case. Therefore, someone should know exactly where these documents are and how to access them at the time of the person’s passing. You should also have an idea of where other important documents are located, such as their birth certificate, bank account information, social security card, etc.
Don’t Stop at Just One Conversation
While it may be tempting to have a one-and-done conversation, this isn’t necessarily the best idea. Tax laws change, family members can pass away, and your parent’s wishes may change and adapt over time. It’s important to help them stay informed and aware of what their choices are and for you to ensure they’re still comfortable with their decisions.
Hopefully, this guide on how to talk with your parents about estate planning makes the conversation feel a little easier. If you or your parents are struggling to understand the complexities of estate planning laws or want to learn how to protect a will from probate, contact Northern Legal today. We’ll put you in touch with one of our experienced and dedicated probate attorneys in Amarillo, Texas, to ensure their wishes are followed.