Thanksgiving and Christmas are the perfect times to discuss estate planning with your aging relatives. As the people left behind after a loved one’s passing usually bear the sometimes-chaotic repercussions of that person’s failure to have estate planning documents in place, it’s important that you have a candid talk with your aging relatives on this topic. A face-to-face private discussion is always the best way to handle this whenever possible. These holidays may be more restricted and subdued due to COVID-19, but the odds are that you’ll still have more contact with your relatives either on the phone or via Zoom, and you can use that opportunity to have such a discussion.
I don’t suggest bringing this topic up at the dinner table in front of everyone else, but it’s best discussed privately with your relative. I find that the best way to approach the topic is to say that you’ve recently been reviewing and tidying up your own estate planning documents, and wanted to check with them to make sure they’re protected and have all the necessary documents in place. Ask them if they need any help or suggestions in reviewing their documents or setting up new ones. You can tell them that you want to make sure they have the proper documents so that you and the family can help them out if they ever need it. Remind them that a Durable Power of Attorney will allow them to appoint someone (maybe you) to handle their affairs (write checks, pay bills, deal with finances, make decisions for them) if they’re ever laid up in the hospital due to an accident, surgery or illness. A separate Power of Attorney for Health Care will allow the person they appoint to make health/medical decisions for them if they’re unable to do so on their own. Sometimes just explaining to them that you want to ensure someone is able to help them out if they become ill, is enough to prompt them to be open to this discussion.
Once you feel that your relative is open to this topic, you can probe a little further. Do they have a Trust set up to avoid Probate Court, save money and make it easier on the people left behind? If they have a Trust, are all of their assets properly titled in the name of their Trust? At a minimum, do they have a current and updated Will, Durable Power of Attorney and Healthcare Power of Attorney? If they don’t know what they have, what their documents say, or when they were drafted, the odds are they need updating - meaning it’s time for them to talk to an attorney to have those documents reviewed. If that’s the case, offer to set up an appointment with an attorney to discuss and review their documents. Our office offers free 30-minute estate planning consultations with new clients and would be glad to help!
Wording such inquiries in a concerning and helpful way is usually the best approach. Remember that you’re the one who may be bearing the brunt of cleaning up a legal mess if they don’t have all of the necessary documents in place. As a result, it’s important to at least give this discussion a try. If your relatives are not receptive to such inquiries, you don’t want to force the topic on them. In that event, it might be best to follow up with an email or letter giving them a link to or copy of our office’s free Estate Planning Guide. Even if your relatives are receptive, this guide may be helpful to them in reviewing the needed documents.
Our office stands ready to help with any questions that you or your relative may have in the Estate Planning area.
Happy Thanksgiving & Merry Christmas!!