Time and time again, when I meet with clients that have parents living, they begin to realize that they have no idea where their parents stand in terms of having the right plans in place to protect their assets and wishes if something were to happen to them.  Even worse, frequently the adult children don’t even know where to begin looking to locate this information in the event of a crisis.

Do their parents have a will or trust and, if so, where are these and other important documents located? Should assisted living or nursing home care become necessary, what plans are in place to cover the costs? Will mom or dad even have enough money after these costs to carry them through retirement?  Where do mom and dad keep their important legal and financial documents and when was the last time that they were reviewed and updated?

These are some very important questions that need to be asked, and an experienced wills and trusts lawyer can steer you in the right direction. That being said, no matter how good your relationship is with mom or dad, the subject can be a difficult one to approach.

Perhaps the best place to start is timing. Holidays such as Christmas, Hanukkah and Thanksgiving are known to be stressful times, so avoid these occasions. Current events often present the perfect opening, as there is always some Hollywood legend or financial mogul who dies leaving a fortune for the heirs to squabble over.  For examples, see our prior blog posts on the Estates of the Rich & Famous and Lessons Learned from Michael Jackson’s Estate.  Amy Winehouse, Rosa Parks, Farrah Fawcett and many others serve as additional examples.

Or, the personal experience of a friend or relative can be worked into a dialogue. “So-and-So’s mother was admitted to the hospital recently and no one knew where to find her important papers.” For the adult child who is doing estate planning of their own, it would only be natural to want to discuss their parents’ plans with them during this time.

For some families, several conversations over a longer period of time might be a better approach. No one wants to feel like they are being told what to do, and money matters are often emotionally charged conversations to begin with.

Remember, advance preparations are in the best interests of your parents, so that their wishes can be carried out upon death.  Be sure to communicate this from the start to avoid your parents shutting down or getting defensive about the questions you are asking.

A friend of mine was called up to make medical decisions for her father upon his death bed.  She told me how stressful it was for her, because her father had never documented his wishes and had never talked to her about them.  At the end of the day, she did the best she could, but it was stressful and she always had that little nagging voice in the back of her mind saying, “is this really what he would have wanted?”  The goal is to give everyone peace of mind by knowing there is clear guidance and instructions in place and that your parents will receive the care they desire.

Finally, don’t forget to include the topic of long-term care in your conversations with mom or dad.   While no one likes to think about the possibility of becoming disabled or incapacitated by something like a stroke or Alzheimer’s disease, it does happen and it is something that must be planned well in advance for.  If you start early enough, a wills and trust lawyer can help you put the right plans in place to ensure mom or dad’s wishes during incapacity are honored and that they won’t be forced to sell or give away all of their assets in order to qualify for state or federal assistance.

Are you now ready to help your parents put a rock-solid plan in place that ensures their end-of-life wishes are honored to the fullest?  To get started, simply call our office at (919)443-3035 and ask about one of our upcoming seminars or schedule a Vision Meeting.

Jackie Bedard
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Attorney, Author, and Founder of Carolina Family Estate Planning
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