Talking About Estate Planning – Part 2 of 2

Talking Estate Planning 2 - Patti Spencer

Give your family the gift of telling them what you have planned for them.

Decide who will be your executors, agents under your power of attorney and surrogate for health care decisions under a medical directive. Let the family know who is going to hold these positions. Make sure the persons you name are willing to serve.

Most parents want their children to be self-supporting. They may help them financially from time to time, but they don’t expect to be supporting their children well into adulthood. If the family has wealth, it is only fair to the children to discuss the estate plan so that they can understand what they’re going to receive, when they will receive it, and plan their lives accordingly.

If you are planning to treat your children differently, it is very important that you discus the plan with them. There can be good reasons to leave unequal inheritances to children, but they shouldn’t find out about it after both parents are dead. They should hear the explanation from the parents in a family meeting.

If you wish that your parents would share their plans with you, here is some help: Read How to Talk to Your Senior Parents About Really Important Things (Jossey-Bass 2001), by Theresa Foy DiGeronimo. It has loads of practical suggestions on how to talk about everything from driving safety, alternative living arrangements, scams that target the elderly, and unwise romances.

Steve Leimberg, in Estate Planning Newsletter # 795 (March 3, 2005) a summarizes an article by the Gallos (Gallo Wines) and gives suggestions for how to approach estate planning with your parents. Try a discussion:

  • of friends or friends’ parents who had positive experiences as the result of planning or negative experiences because of a failure to plan;
  • about the child’s own experience in planning his or her estate;
  • of recent or potential changes in the estate and gift tax laws; or
  • about the need for health care powers of attorney (or similar types of advance directives) in the event of illness.

Some other ways to start a conversation on the topic of estate planning are to:

  • discuss the child’s own wishes (and plans if any) if he or she is disabled;
  • provide family members with a list of trusted advisors and their phone and e-mail addresses;
  • let family members know where you’ve put a list of your assets and the location of your safe deposit boxes.

Parents often view their children’s efforts to ask such questions as attempts to take control. Often the parent generation lived through World War II and the Depression and are afraid of losing control. They also think they should not need or ask for help. Some parents may not have their financial information organized, or some may not have the financial resources they have led the children to believe they had.

If parents decide not to share information about their estates and their estate plan; the decision, of course, must be honored. However, be aware that non-disclosure and no communication create uncertainty and tension. Relationships that are already strained can deteriorate further under the emotional pressures of losing a parent and feeling insecure and in the dark about the estate.

Give your family the gift of telling them what you have planned for them.