As parents age, children need to have tough conversations with them to keep their care and assets in the right hands. Here is a helpful guide for adults with parents who may be getting older, or are in declining physical or mental health, and need assistance preparing their estate plans.
How to start the conversation
While it’s never easy to bring up such a difficult situation, it’s important to start the conversation about estate planning as soon as possible, rather than putting it off until something unfortunate happens. Start by asking your parents about where they are currently in the estate planning process. From there, take the time to understand what they need to do moving forward and find out how you can help them. This may include arranging meetings on their behalf with an estate planning attorney if they don’t have one already.
Productive estate planning discussions require all parties to be patient and communicate transparently, and it’s important for children to be empathetic to their parents to ensure they still feel in control of their own lives.
Helping them get organized
Estate planning involves a lot of different documents and arrangements. Your parents may need help staying organized with the following items:
- Help your parents prepare and organize not only any signed Wills, trusts, and powers of attorney. You should also help them put together and inventory of all their financial accounts, whether those accounts have named beneficiaries, along with printing out a year-end statement. If they have any life insurance, annuities, long-term care insurance, or other important documents (including records of any assets or personal belongings inherited by them from other family), make sure that copies of all insurance policies and both a list and photos of any inherited belongings are put together. If their existing Wills, trusts or powers of attorney seem unclear, consult with an attorney about their content to understand fully what the documents do and don’t say, or do or don’t provide for moving forward. All language should be clear and detailed, with no room for interpretation or error.
- Emergency contacts and medical care information. Save your parents potential harm by keeping important contact information organized and accessible before they need it. Keep it in a secure, easy-to-find location and include names, phone numbers, and relevant information for doctors, lawyers, financial advisers, storage rental facilities, and any other important contacts. Also include log-in information for bank accounts and other digital assets. Consider a medic-alert bracelet as well as the newer medic-alert wearables like necklaces, rings, watches, and bracelets that actually allow a parent to call for help (police, ambulance, or you) in the case of a fall or other emergency.
- Final Arrangements for Their Body After Death. Although it is most certainly an emotional topic, ask if your parents know what they want to happen with their body after death. It’s important to discuss whether they want to be cremated or have a casket burial, as well as what kind of service they want — including their preferences on flowers, hymns, verses, and photos they would like on display. Have they already purchased something or would they like to do so as a pre-paid plan? Leaving those decisions to one’s children or other family members (they need to understand) creates a heightened level of pain and anxiety for a family after their death.
Comprehensive estate planning requires learning what to expect for probate, how to avoid probate wherever and whenever possible, choosing an executor for a Will, and picking a trusted person to serve as an agent under a financial or medical power of attorney. A power of attorney handles financial and medical decisions on someone else’s behalf while they are still living — particularly in times of disability or incapacitation. Similarly, an executor handles financial affairs and takes care of one’s assets after they pass.
A trusted person, such as a spouse, family member, or close friend, should be chosen for these roles, as they will need to handle legal needs such as distributing provisions from your parent’s will and paying bills on behalf of their estate, among other things. Another option is to go with a third party, such as a business or legal professional. This option will cost money, as opposed to a family member who will usually handle the responsibility for free; however, a neutral third party can help families avoid conflict in their time of grief.
Considerations when helping with your parents’ estate plans
Determine their goals
Determine your parent’s estate planning goals while they are still in good health. Find out their intentions and how much involvement they need from you in the planning process — as well as after they pass — and keep detailed notes so you can reference them as needed.
Avoid undue influence
Ensure that all estate planning documents fully reflect the creator’s wishes, otherwise, there could be a case of undue influence. Undue influence is when an influencer, or manipulator, uses a testator’s (the estate plan creator) poor mental or physical state to change documentation, including wills and trusts, to benefit the influencer. Keep in regular contact and communication with your parents, visit them, and make sure you are aware of who it providing them with any caretaking services or socializing with them. Undue influence is something that can take place very gradually over time, often when children or other family are not around and not in regular enough contact to catch it.
Plan for care
Discuss how your parents would like to be cared for, whether it’s at home with a family member or in a long-term care or assisted living facility. Should a family member become a caretaker, determine what their responsibilities will be. Determine what assets will be available to pay for the costs of such care.
Get help with your parents’ estate plans from an experienced Virginia attorney
If you’re in need of an attorney to help with your parent’s estate planning, The Law Office of Patricia E. Tichenor, P.L.L.C. can help. We specialize in estate planning in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Request a free consultation to see how we can help you and your parents finalize estate plans you’re happy with.