No one wants to feel as if their grown children are inferring that financial documents must be scrutinized because death or mental decline are imminent. However, details regarding estate planning, bank accounts, and general family finances are all things that you should discuss as a family in order to prevent any future problems.
You may find you are hesitant to broach the subject because it might seem as if you are merely inquiring about your inheritance. Nevertheless, it is beneficial to both yourself and your parents to talk about these matters in advance, rather than after a crisis or emergency has occurred. Even if estate planning attorneys are involved, it is important for you to talk to your parents directly about their wishes concerning a broad range of matters, from the distribution of property to end-of-life medical decisions.
A Practical Place to Begin
To start the conversation in a way that will not seem intrusive or demanding, use a third-party story, rather than making a direct reference to your parents. Similarly, instead of asking to read any specific documents, you can simply ask your parents where such items can be found if the need arises. Therefore, consider beginning the conversation with a story about someone whose parents found themselves in a crisis and family members did not know where or how to access vital documents. Even though your parents probably have an estate plan and wills or trusts in place, they are not helpful if you do not know where to find them and have no idea which estate planning attorney prepared the documents.
Property and Real Estate
Having open discussions about property and real estate is also important. Your parents may have real estate listed in a trust for you and your siblings, but confusion may occur if they should become incapacitated or pass away suddenly and you are unaware of the location of such documents. Probate for real estate and property can drag on with seemingly no end in sight if there are any gray areas regarding beneficiaries.
Final Topics to Discuss
End-of-life planning is another important topic that may prove awkward to discuss. Therefore, it may be wise to speak of this aspect after the conversation has been underway for awhile. End-of-life planning involves a variety of aspects, such as a living will. Also called an advance directive, a living will allows your parents to make their own decisions about life support and other medical options in the event they are unable to communicate. You may decide to use another third-party story about individuals who had no living will or power of attorney, and subsequently had decisions made for them that they would not necessarily have made for themselves. This is not intended to frighten your parents, but merely to remind them that they deserve to be part of the decision-making process.
Cognitive decline is perhaps one of the most difficult subjects to discuss. However, individuals in their 80s and 90s often struggle to make financial decisions and are sometimes vulnerable to scams designed to target older individuals. Since there is no easy way to introduce this topic, you may simply wish to offer to help out with your parents’ finances on a regular basis, while they are still clearly the decision-makers. This way, you will notice any signs of failing judgment or confusion and you can intervene. Explain that your goal is not to make decisions for them if there is no need for you to do so, but rather to help out if impaired ability eventually occurs.
Relationship dynamics differ greatly from one family to the next, and therefore there is no exact formula for having the aforementioned discussions. Ultimately, your main goal should be to broach the subject before it is too late. Unfortunately, negative life events often happen without warning, and therefore it is in your best interest to have these conversations when your parents are both mentally and physically well.