As the Holidays approach, it’s a time for family get-togethers and activities. It may be one of the only times of the year that family comes in from various parts of the country. This is a prime time to discuss estate planning with your family.
Not just your estate planning, but also that of any aging members of your family (parents or grandparents).
Our office believes that open communication between family members on this issue is very important. While the topic is not necessarily something that you want to bring up in front of everyone at the Thanksgiving dinner table, it’s a time to discretely pull some family members aside to tell them that you’ve either set up your estate plan or are thinking of doing so. If you’re thinking of naming those relatives in some capacity (Trustees, Guardians of your children, Agent under your Power of Attorney, etc.), now’s a good time to make sure that they are comfortable taking on that role. You can also use that time to express your wishes as to how your affairs should be handled.
It’s also a good time to (again discretely) speak to your parents, grandparents and other aging relatives about their estate plan. Do they have all of the necessary documents in place? Do they have a Trust to avoid probate court? If they don’t have documents properly set up, you may be the one to bear the brunt of cleaning things up after they become incapacitated or pass on. Prying into how your parents are dividing up their assets is usually not a good idea. A good conversation starter is simply telling them that you just want to check to make sure they’re protected if something should happen. E.g., have they appointed an Agent in a Power of Attorney to sign checks and make decisions for them should they be unable to do so? Have they drafted a Health Care Power of Attorney and Directive to appoint someone to make health care decisions for them and provide direction as to what type of treatment they want or don’t want? Have they drafted a Trust to preserve their assets and easily handle their distribution after they’ve passed on? Wording such questions in a concerning and helpful way is usually the best approach. Sometimes a conversation starter is to tell them that you have recently revisited your estate planning documents, and want to make sure they’re also protected.
If your parents/grandparents aren’t receptive to your questions, it’s sometimes helpful to have another family member with you. Sometimes there’s strength in numbers. Some people just do not want to talk about what documents they have or don’t have, and you can’t force them to do so. Simply telling them that you’re concerned and want to make sure these documents are in place to care for them and their assets will plant that seed in their head. If you don’t make progress in this conversation, consider revisiting it again next Thanksgiving (e.g., “Mom, remember that conversation we had last year about Estate Planning . . . I was just wonder if you’ve given any more thought to things?”).
Some people find it difficult to speak with family members about their plans after they pass or don’t want to “talk money” with family. We respect that perspective and offer a free, no obligation consultation. Speaking with an estate planning attorney directly may be more motivating for some family members since we are not family. Please encourage them to call my office at 314-727-0163 to get information and ask any questions that they may have. I’d be glad to send them a free, no-obligation Estate Planning Guide that discusses their options and the most common estate planning documents that people draft.