There are certain topics we avoid talking about with our parents—and estate planning is one of them. Asking your parents about their retirement finances and what will happen to their assets after they die is not only uncomfortable, but it can make you sound greedy, or even scheming.
The discomfort isn’t just on the child’s end, though. 34% of parents have not had conversations with their adult children about living expenses, and 43% have avoided the topic of long-term health or nursing care.
Ultimately, children feel like asking their parents about their estate plan will make them look money-hungry or ill-intentioned, while parents don’t want to think about losing control over their finances or admitting that they haven’t always been the poster child for financial management. And both parties are uncomfortable talking about death. But at some point, avoidance will become a liability and the topic of estate planning will need to be addressed.
If estate planning remains a taboo topic, children may misunderstand the way their parents distributed their estate, resulting in a lifelong resentment—one that can never be resolved, but could have been avoided with a simple conversation. Here are a series of strategies to make this conversation more easily approachable for both parents and adult children.
Set up a meeting. Don’t bring up a conversation about estate planning out of the blue. Not only is it fair to give all parties time to think about what needs to be discussed, but it’s also easier to prepare for the emotional nature of this conversation when you know it’s coming.
Use tact. Abrasive questions—for example, “Do you have a life insurance policy?”—are rarely well-received. Foreground your question by addressing the underlying concern. “I want to support you as much as I can with your estate planning. Do you think we could plan a family conversation about the subject to avoid any miscommunication?”
Communication is key. Practice good communication strategies during your conversation, for example, “mirroring and validating” is a tried-and-true communication tactic that can keep tensions to a minimum. An example of mirroring and validating might be, “I hear what you’re saying, and agree that it makes the most sense for Suzie to inherit the lake house because she is the only sibling who lives close to home.”
Be empathetic. Show understanding and empathy to all parties involved in the conversation, but don’t forget about yourself. Be prepared to share your own concerns, fears, and vulnerabilities. Also, an effective way to ensure your empathy is received is to skip over the sensitive details. For example, “I don’t need to know specific numbers or details; I just want to make sure a plan is in place and future conflict can be avoided.”
Address the important details directly. Some of your conversation can be glossed over, but certain details are important to address clearly and directly. Especially if you lose your parents suddenly, or they develop dementia, specific details are sure to get lost. Topics you should address directly include: insurance policies; wills and trusts; durable power of attorney documents; medical directives; bond or stock certificates; safety deposit keys; property deeds; car titles; information about pensions; medication lists and physician contact information; and contact information for your parents’ financial advisor.
Before you begin your conversation, remember that the people you are speaking to love you. This discussion, while it may bring uncomfortable emotions to the surface, will also bring peace of mind and a sense to relief to everyone involved. In fact, let your family know right out of the gates that this is your goal for the conversation!
Contact the Estate Planning Law Group of Georgia
After decades of helping families and individuals with estate planning, we have our fingers firmly on the pulse of the discussions that you should be having with your parents or children, and can help guide that process. Contact us today to learn more about us and the estate planning services we offer!