It can be tough to broach the subject of aging with elderly parents. They may not want to talk about it, or may be in denial about the changes happening in their bodies and minds, but it’s an essential conversation for every family. Unless you’re certain your parents have a current will and a plan for what should happen in the event of their passing, you shouldn’t assume that everything will be taken care of. The unfortunate reality is that many families are caught off guard by the death of a loved one without any plan in place, and this can lead to difficult decisions being made in an already emotional time. By having a honest conversation about estate planning with your parents, you can help to ensure that their wishes are carried out and that the burden of decision-making is not placed on you at a time when you’re struggling to cope with loss. While it may be a difficult topic to broach, remember that it’s an act of love and respect.
Here are 8 tips to help make the conversation go more smoothly:
1. Planning What You Can Do
Estate planning is not a conversation that should happen on the fly. It’s important to be prepared before broaching the subject with your parents. Make a list of topics and questions ahead of time, then set a date and time to chat. Choose a private venue where everyone will feel comfortable. And be aware that you may need to have several conversations, as there could be too much to cover in one sitting. Remember to use language that’s respectful and supportive, and take a break if emotions run high or the stress becomes overwhelming. With a little bit of planning, you can ensure that these conversations go smoothly and that everyone’s needs are taken into account.
2. Identify Key Players
As you begin to plan for your parents’ estate, it is important to identify the key people who will be involved in the process. These may include their doctors, attorney, financial planner and/or accountant, insurance broker, minister of religion, and closest friends. By having the contact information for these individuals, you will be able to easily get in touch with them when needed. Furthermore, you can use this list as a starting point for gathering additional information about your parents’ estate. By taking the time to identify the key people involved, you can ensure that the estate planning process goes as smoothly as possible.
3. Address the Topic of a Will
It’s estimated that over 60 percent of adults don’t have a will, despite the fact that it’s one of the most important documents you can have. A will allows you to specify how you want your assets to be distributed after you die, and it can also be used to appoint a guardian for your minor children. If you don’t have a will, your assets will be distributed according to your state’s intestacy laws, which may not be in line with your wishes. In addition, if you have minor children, the court will decide who should care for them if you haven’t named a guardian in your will.
Creating a will is relatively simple and doesn’t have to be expensive. You can prepare one yourself or work with an attorney. Once your will is created, it’s important to keep it up to date. You should review it every five years or so, or whenever there are major changes in your life, such as getting married, having children, or acquiring significant assets. You should also keep it in a safe place where your loved ones can easily find it. And finally, be sure to name an executor—someone who will be responsible for carrying out your wishes after you die.
4. Talk About Power of Attorney
Everyone should have a power of attorney in place in case they become incapacitated and are unable to manage their own affairs. A power of attorney is a legal document that gives someone else the authority to make decisions on your behalf. This can include financial decisions, medical decisions, or any other type of decision that you may need help with. If your parents have not appointed someone to have power of attorney, you should suggest that they do so. This will ensure that their affairs are taken care of in the event that they are unable to do so themselves. appointing someone to have power of attorney can be a difficult decision, but it is one that is well worth making.
5. Discuss End-of-Life Wishes
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 depend on the state in which you live, and they may include:
The appointment of a health care proxy who can make medical decisions for your parents if they become incapable of making those decisions themselves. You can obtain the relevant forms from an elder law attorney or from a hospital or nursing home.
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 can be included in the document that appoints the health care proxy.
It’s important to have these conversations with your parents while they are still of sound mind, so that their wishes are clear. If you wait until they are ill or incapacitated, it may be too late. So take the initiative to broach the subject with them, and then follow their wishes to the best of your ability.
6. Ask About Insurance Policies
Many seniors have insurance policies in place to cover various needs. Health insurance is one of the most important, as it can help to defray the costs of medical care. Medicare is a government-sponsored health insurance program for seniors, while private health insurance is also an option. Life insurance can provide financial security for loved ones in the event of a senior’s death, while home insurance can help to cover the cost of repairs or replacement in the event of damage. Long-term care insurance can help to cover the costs of extended care needs, such as nursing home care. Disability insurance can provide income protection in the event that a senior is unable to work due to illness or injury. Seniors should be aware of all their options when it comes to insurance and make sure that their loved ones are familiar with their policy details.
7. Request Access to Tax Returns
There are a few reasons why you may need to request access to tax returns after someone dies. If the estate becomes complicated, for instance, you may need these documents to show the value of assets. In some cases, tax returns may also be required to settle debts or distribute assets.
If you think you may need to access tax returns after a death, it’s important to confirm where they’re stored and that they’re up to date. The last thing you want is to be searching for documents in the midst of everything else. Once you know where the tax returns are, you can rest assured that you’ll be able to find them if and when you need them.
8. Discuss All Other Practicalities
In addition to financial and legal considerations, there are several other practicalities that should be discussed with aging parents. For example, it is important to make a list of all their accounts, including bank accounts, credit cards, and store loyalty cards. This will help ensure that bills are paid on time and that any financial assets are properly managed. Additionally, it is important to discuss organ donation. Many people are registered organ donors, but others may not be aware of this option or may have religious or personal objections to it. Asking about this in advance can help avoid any conflicts or misunderstandings down the road. Finally, it is also important to talk about end-of-life wishes, such as whether they want to be buried or cremated. Having these conversations may be difficult, but they can help provide peace of mind for both aging parents and their adult children.
Having ‘the talk’ with your elderly parents can be tough, but it’s worth it. By being honest, respectful, and understanding, you can help make the conversation go more smoothly. And, by offering support, you can let your parents know that you’re there for them every step of the way.