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How should I bring up the topic of estate planning with my aging parents?

More than half of all Americans, including a substantial minority of seniors, have no estate plan. Many of us shy away from discussing what we perceive as a morbid topic, so we rarely ask friends or family about the status of their estate planning. Nonetheless, if you are an adult with an aging parent, it is important to make sure that your parent has a valid estate plan. Tampa Bay estate planning lawyer Spiro Verras offers some tips on how to talk about estate planning with your parents tactfully.

Starting the Discussion

If you are unsure whether your parents have an estate plan in place, you should find an tactful way to find out if they do. Tread gently; people can become defensive when asked about a topic they would rather not think about. One way to broach the subject delicately is to start by sharing information about your own estate planning. You can, for example, mention that you recently updated your own will and advance directives and ask when your parents last did so.

You will want to come as prepared as possible. Anticipate that your parents might want some information to help them should they not yet have an estate plan. Consider printing out some articles (or even some of my blogs) about the essential components of an estate plan and perhaps a list of possible estate planning lawyers near where your parents live.

Listen and Provide Input as Needed

As the discussion begins, you may be tempted to jump in with your opinion and advice. Avoid this impulse and just listen. This is about what your parents want, not about want you want or what you think would be best. Take notes as your parents talk about their wishes for their funeral and belongings after their death. Write down important information you will need, like your parents’ bank information, utility account numbers, online login information, and the like.

If you disagree with some of your parent’s decisions concerning their distribution of assets, remember that it is their property, and whatever they wish to do with it is entirely up to them. Your parents are adults who have considerably more life experience than you and they deserve to be treated with respect. They are not obligated to leave anything at all to you or to your siblings. None of us are entitled to receive anything from our parents or to be appointed as decision-makers in their advance directives, and our parents do not owe us any explanation for their choices.

However, if you sincerely believe your parent is suffering from a cognitive disorder that impairs the soundness of their reasoning in this regard, you should consider discussing their condition with their physicians. If they are indeed unable to make decisions for themselves, it may be necessary to consult an elder law attorney to discuss whether a guardian needs to be appointed to manage their affairs.

If your parents seek your input, provide it in a reasoned, calm, and objective manner. If your parents request your assistance in preparing their estate plan, then you can refer them to an estate planning lawyer who can help carry out your parent’s wishes. Estate planning should thoughtful and dignified, not contentious or stressful. With the right approach, your parents will be able to relax in the knowledge that their end of life wishes will be honored.