How to start a dialogue with elderly family members about the importance of estate planning for their family’s future.
QUESTION: Although my husband and I understand the need of having our own estate plan, I can’t convince my parents, who are in their 70s, of its importance. I offered to pay for their estate planning, but they just don’t want to discuss it. Is it common for the elderly to avoid estate planning? What can I do to encourage their interest?
ANSWER: It’s common for people to use all type of excuses to avoid planning their estate with a last will, trust or living documents. Some reasons they give are:
• I’ve been healthy all my life and will think about estate planning when my spouse dies.
• I just want to live and not think about the end of my life.
• It seems to be an unnecessary financial burden and I don’t want to talk about it.
• Our estate is too small. It seems a bit frivolous to toss away our hard-earned money on attorneys to prepare a pile of paper to store for our children to read when we die.
• It’s enough to have each other for managing our lives.
Estate planning attorneys hear these excuses every day. Unfortunately, it often takes a tragedy to make people aware that they should have acted sooner and now must face greater cost than they imagined to protect themselves, their estate and beneficiaries.
You might begin by taking small steps with your parents by discussing the need for living documents. These are some of the most misunderstood estate planning documents and often become relevant only when tragedy strikes. Consider the following:
• Simply being married doesn’t mean that one spouse can make health care decisions for the other who was admitted to the hospital unconscious.
• A spouse cannot make financial decisions for another who becomes incapacitated if they own assets such as business, bank or investment accounts individually and fail to include the other jointly on accounts so the spouse can manage those assets.
• If one spouse becomes mentally incapacitated due to injury or dementia and lacks adequate living documents that name someone to manage their affairs and health, the spouse may need to apply for guardianship, which is usually costly. Such instances can even end up with a state agency becoming guardian and taking over the incapacitated spouse’s assets and health care.
Living documents are essential for everyone and cost much less than a sophisticated estate plan. Living documents include a durable power of attorney, designation of health care surrogate, nomination of preneed guardian, and living will. Introducing your parents to these documents will open a dialogue about their entire estate.
Rather than exchanging cards, candy, flowers or stuffed animals, encourage a sit-down with your parents on Valentine’s Day to discuss estate documents that are necessary for their daily living. Encourage them to consult with an estate planning attorney, which will inevitably lead to further discussion about your parent’s estate after death.
Kristen M. Jackson is the founding partner of Jackson Law PA
(407-363-9020). She is experienced in estate planning, real estate law, business and contract law. Her firm has earned an AV rating by Martindale-Hubbell signifying the highest level of professional excellence as obtained through opinions from members of the bar and judiciary.