Money is an emotionally charged subject in most families — so is aging. Talking about estate planning with loved ones can be challenging and uncomfortable. But the Flagstaff aging experts at Law for Seniors with the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services & Education say open communication about estate plans can set expectations and defray conflict down the road.
You might scoff at the idea of fighting over family inheritances once your parents are gone, but money and mementos generate powerful emotional and financial attachments. If you are not careful, struggles over your parent’s assignment of legal powers and disputes over inheritance can tear your family apart.
So how do you get started?
To break the ice, start by saying something like: “Dad, I do not want to upset you, but if something happened to you, I would want to know that your wishes were being honored. Do you have a will?” or “Mom, I want someone designated to make my decisions for me in an emergency, so I am getting my paperwork together. I would feel so much better if you did the same.”
Here are some other helpful conversation starters:
- Have you spoken with an attorney about an estate plan?
- Have you prepared any papers to document your wishes in the event of an illness or disability?
- What can I do to help you in the event of an illness or disability?
Questions to Ask
Once a conversation is started, adult children should ask their parents these critical questions about decision-making, finances, medical wishes, distributions, and important information:
- Who will hold financial and medical powers of attorney (POA), act as the personal representative, and/or act as the trustee of any trust?
- How should finances be handled, and where can financial information be located?
- How do you feel about home care, senior living communities, life-sustaining treatments, and organ donation?
- How should assets be distributed, and are there any priorities for future use of any money that may be inherited?
- Where are important papers, passwords for accounts, and safe deposit boxes located?
- Are there any attorneys, financial advisors, and accountants that can provide additional helpful information if needed?
Here is a checklist you can download of financial and legal questions you should ask your parents. Although these might be hard questions to ask, once you know the answers — and have the right financial and legal paperwork and plans in place — the process of growing older becomes easier on everyone.
Myths to Be Aware of
Because aging and estate planning are such touchy topics that aren’t often openly discussed, many people have misconceptions about estate planning, probate, and end-of-life issues. According to the experts at Law for Seniors, here are the most common ones.
1. All I Need Is a Power of Attorney
Yes, you need a POA, but that’s not all you need. A POA terminates on your death, so it’s not a tool for handling your estate.
2. My Spouse or One of My Kids Can Handle My Affairs
While a spouse or adult child often serves as a personal representative or trustee, they might not always be the best equipped to do so. Family conflicts or time constraints can create problems. In these situations, a licensed fiduciary can be an excellent alternative.
3. Estate Planning Is All About Taxes
Planning with estate taxes in mind limits options and costs money. Some other things that you’ll discuss when estate planning might include what to do with a successful business, supporting organizations that make a difference, and honoring people who have made your life better.
4. If I Have a Plan, I’m All Set
If you have estate planning documents that have not been reviewed in several years, it’s time to review them. Generally, the more you have, the more need there is for a review, and you should be seeing a professional whenever something significant happens in your life. The experts recommend reviewing estate planning documents every five years.
Get Armed with Tools
Estate planning helps ensure your family is protected and armed with the tools and information needed to handle your parent’s estate.
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