With the holidays upon us we look forward to the gathering of family. It gives us a great opportunity to talk about the difficult and emotional topic of estate planning, which is essential for everyone. You shouldn’t assume everything will be taken care of, unless you are certain your parents have an up-to-date will and a wider plan for what should happen in the event of their disability or passing.
According to a recent survey, less than half of Americans have a will. If your mother or father dies intestate — meaning without a will — such a situation could lead to added emotional strain and stress. In all likelihood, it will also have financial implications for all their children and/or other family members.
The following 8 tips can help you thoroughly and respectfully discuss the hard topics and prepare you for the road ahead:
1. Plan What You Can
Discussing estate planning and all it entails is not something that should happen without any planning. Make a list of topics and questions, then let your parents know what you want to chat about with them. If possible, set a time and date and choose a private venue where everyone will feel comfortable. Be aware that you may need to schedule a few conversations as there may be too much to cover in one sitting. Remember to use language that is respectful and supportive, and to take a breather if emotions run high or the stress becomes overwhelming.
2. Identify Key People
There are several key people you may need to contact for estate planning purposes. Ask your parents for the names and contact details of their doctors, attorney, financial planner and/or accountant, insurance brokers, minister of religion and closest friends.
3. Address the Topic of a Will
Determine whether there is an existing will in place and whether the document is up to date. If a will was created more than five years ago, check to see if they’d consider reviewing it to ensure it’s a true reflection of their wishes. Establish where they keep the document and confirm who they’ve appointed as the personal representative/s. The same goes for any trust that may have been created.
4. Talk about Power of Attorney
Find out whether your parents have appointed someone to manage their financial and other affairs if they become incapacitated. If they haven’t given someone power of attorney, suggest they consider doing so.
5. Discuss End-of-Life Issues
Even though the subject may be uncomfortable to talk about, you should discuss your parents’ end-of-life wishes with them. Their estate plan will be incomplete without these directives, so it’s important to include them. The form those directives take should include:
• The appointment of a health care representative who can make medical decisions for your parents if they become incapable of making those decisions themselves. You can consult with an estate planning/elder law attorney for the relevant documents.
• A medical or advance directive that explains what sort of care they would like and whether life support should be used to keep them alive or not. These directives are normally included in the document that appoints the health care representative. The directive should refer to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA) when naming the representative.
• A living will contains instructions regarding the withdrawal or termination of life support under specific conditions, such as your parents becoming terminally ill, becoming comatose, or entering a vegetative state. These instructions are now normally included in the document that appoints the health care representative.
• Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment (POST) is an advanced care planning tool, normally used for people with serious illness. However, the POST form can also be used as a conversation starter concerning care and treatment decisions in the event someone does become seriously ill.
6. Ask About Insurance Policies
Talk about the type of insurance policies in place. That includes health insurance – Medicare or private, life insurance, home insurance, long-term care insurance and disability insurance.
In some cases, there may be funeral insurance or other policies intended to cover funeral or burial payments. You’ll need to know about these and have all their details.
If you haven’t already done so, take note of the names and contact details of the insurance brokers. Check where the policy documents are kept and if possible, make copies of them.
7. Request Access to Tax Returns
It can be helpful to know where tax return paperwork is stored. While these documents may not be necessary after death, they could be required if the estate becomes complicated. Confirm where you can find these documents and that they’re all up to date.
8. Discuss All Other Practicalities
In addition to subjects such as power of attorney and insurance, there are several other practicalities you should include in your conversations.
• Make a list of their accounts – financial accounts such as bank and mutual fund, credit accounts, and store accounts
• Check if they are registered organ donors or whether they would consider donating their organs
• Talk about the memorial service they want and whether they want to be buried, cremated, or some other option.
Estate planning conversations are tough no matter how you tackle them. Try your best to be patient with your parents and transparent with other family members about what you’re doing. If you have siblings, invite them to be part of the conversation.
Accept that these talks can take time and avoid placing pressure on those involved to get it done in a few hours. The smaller details are critical and should not be rushed. If you think you need help breaking the ice, have your folks read this article. Lastly, always consult an attorney if you ‘re unsure about the legal aspects or implications of any of the points mentioned.