We often hear from children who are concerned that their parents may not have an estate plan in place. The children are worried that if something happens to one or both parents, the children will not be equipped to assist their parents, and many times the children have no idea where the parents stand financially. Understandably, these subjects may be hard for children to discuss with their parents. The children do not want to appear greedy, and the parents may fear loss of control or independence.
How can you approach your parents about these issues? First, you should get your own house in order: make sure that you have executed your own Will, Durable Power of Attorney, and advance medical directive. After you learn about these tools, then you should be able to approach your parents by referring to your work with an elder law attorney and what you found out. Then ask your parents if they have done the same planning. The goal is to balance safety with independence and to not wait until an emergency strikes to start planning.
First, don’t ask them if they have done a Will. This approach can reinforce any impression of greediness on your part, and it can scare away those parents who don’t want to think about their own mortality. Instead, focus on the Durable Power of Attorney and advance medical directive. Ask your parents who they want to make financial and medical decisions for them if they cannot make them for themselves. You can give the example of a temporary disability that may require someone to help pay the bills or make medical decisions.
Second, if your parents already have a plan in place, then see if they will let you know where they keep their documents. If you can, ask to review their documents and get the name of their attorney. The attorney may not be able to talk with you at that point in time, but you will know where to turn in case of an emergency. If your parents do not have a plan in place, then you should suggest that they make an appointment with an elder law attorney. Your parents may let you schedule an appointment for them, but you need to be aware that the parents, not the children, will be the clients of the attorney.
Third, you will also want to know where your parents keep other important documents such as safe deposit box keys, birth certificates, passports, deeds, insurance policies, investment and bank statements, tax returns, Social Security numbers, medical insurance cards and other information. If your parents do not want to share this information with you, then ask them to prepare a list and let you know where the list can be found in case of an emergency.
Fourth, you should assess your parents’ current financial situation to see whether your parents have sufficient income and resources to meet their needs. If your parents will not discuss these issues with you, then you should ask a trusted friend of your parents to talk with them to encourage a family dialogue.
If plans need to be made or if existing plans need to be changed, the time to accomplish these objectives is prior to an emergency, while your parents still have the capacity to get their affairs in order.