Helping Seniors Get their Estate Planning Affairs in Order
Your parents may be in their 70s or 80s, and like many in their generation, have the ethos that personal information – especially anything having to do with money or estate planning – is private … as it should be. They also believe whether Johnny and Janey are getting anything in the estate is their business … which in fact it is. Sharing information about their assets and the content of their estate plan is strictly on a “need to know” basis.
The trouble is maybe you do need to know. Caring children do need to know that their parents are truly “OK” when it comes to their estate planning and wellness planning. You want to see to it that they have been able to set up a plan that gives them control now and avoids unnecessary mistakes and pitfalls, like taxes and probate in their estate.
You witnessed your folks feeling helpless when their parents died – the probate was too long, too expensive, not what their parents would have wanted and definitely out of their control. Even before passing away, you saw the family frantically trying to just get and gather information, which had not been organized and was not readily available.
How do you show that you are being thoughtful and not nosy? How can you be helpful, but not bossy?
Be Specific in Your Questions
Children often ask, “Dad/Mom, by the way, do you have your affairs in order? You know, do you have a will?” At best, this is an inadequate inquiry. Finding out about their will is a fraction of what need to know. At worst, it’s a set-up for the answer that is sure to shut down the conversation: “We’re all set.”
Where do you go from there? They said they are all set! That’s like saying, “I don’t want to talk about it!” You haven’t even found out whether they have a will, let alone a financial plan or a trust.
You need to be specific in your inquiries about their estate planning and seek permission to be in the loop on their affairs, even just a little bit at first. To get really involved, you need to know enough about the subject matter to communicate effectively.
Break the Ice on Estate Planning
To begin a conversation about your parents’ estate planning, there are several ways you can preface your remarks.
Try something like:
- “I’m concerned. In case you get sick or pass away I want to know that you have all the right legal documents in place. I have a checklist.”
- “I would feel irresponsible not knowing that you have things in order. I hope you don’t think I am being nosy or disrespectful if I try to understand your situation.”
- “Would it be okay if I asked you to tell me about a few things? Just a little information would be helpful.”
You may not need to be quite this wordy, but some or all of these simple phrases may put your folks or friends at ease, talking about their personal affairs.
If you get shut down in the attempts at conversation, give them an article, a study, or even a cartoon from a financial magazine to get them thinking about next steps. Ask if and when you can follow up.
Following up may be easy or it may take considerable effort.
After months or years of just touching base occasionally on these matters, there may come a time when you need to be more deliberate about your offer for assistance, whether it’s for your folks, friends, or other loved ones. Let them know you are willing to be an extra set of eyes and ears for their planning process. This may include attending meetings with advisors, going to the bank with them and so on. As their helpmate on these matters, you become a regular part of the process, which hopefully gives everyone some peace of mind.
Estate planning is an important, yet sensitive, topic of conversation. Show you have genuine concern for their well-being, and hopefully they will welcome your role as helper for their financial, legal and health matters.
Learn which medical and financial documents you should help organize for your aging loved one here.
Learn more about estate planning here.