In 2008, Congress recognized the need for the public to understand the importance and benefits of estate planning by passing House Resolution 1499, which designated the third week of October as National Estate Planning Awareness Week. Nevertheless, 56 percent of adults in the United States have not prepared any estate planning documents, such as a will or trust, despite the fact that 76 percent viewed them as important. Some say this is due to procrastination, while many others mistakenly believe it is not necessary because they do not have many assets.
Estate Planning Awareness Week is a great opportunity to take steps to make sure your own estate plan is up to date and also to talk to your family members — especially elderly parents — about creating an estate plan. Estate planning is often a difficult topic to broach, as it brings the unpleasant topics of aging and death to the forefront of our minds. However, creating a proper estate plan can also provide significant peace of mind for your family members by ensuring their life savings are protected, plans are in place in the event they become ill, and their property is passed down according to their wishes. Here are a few important discussion points and tips to help you start the conversation.
Be sensitive to your family members’ feelings. Put yourself in their shoes, and keep in mind that few people are eager to dwell on the subject of their own mortality. One way to begin the conversation is to talk first about the need to plan for illness and to provide instructions in the event they become too sick to communicate with doctors or manage their own finances. The conversation can then naturally progress to the importance of having an estate plan that will enable their life savings to be transferred in the way that they wish, provide for the care of any children or pets, and minimize any taxes, court costs, and legal fees. Communicate that you are not trying to control their decisions but only want to ensure that their wishes regarding medical care and property are known—and that all their instructions are in writing to guarantee they are honored.
Involve other family members in the conversation. If you are planning to speak to your parents about the need for an estate plan, it is important to include any siblings in the discussion to avoid giving the impression that you are trying to influence or control your parents’ choices. You and your siblings should emphasize that none of you are asking about what you will inherit but just want to make sure their wishes are known and honored if they become ill or pass away.
Address several key topics.
- Ask if your family members have a last will and testament and/or a trust, and explain that if they do not have these important legal documents, state law will determine who will receive their property—and thus it may not occur in the way they would have chosen. In addition, someone appointed by the court (instead of a trusted person of their own choosing) might be in charge of caring for any children or pets. Spelling out their wishes in a will or trust will also prevent confusion and anxiety when they are no longer here.
- A financial power of attorney will allow them to designate an individual to manage their finances and property if they are unable to do so. Inquire about your family members’ powers of attorney and encourage them to decide who would be the best individual for the job.
- Make sure your family members have proper medical powers of attorney and advance directives in place. These documents contain their wishes about how they would like their medical care to be handled if they are not able to make decisions for themselves. A medical power of attorney also enables them to designate a trusted person to make medical decisions for them when they are unable to speak themselves.
- Find out whether they have insurance and the location of the insurance policies. If your family member becomes incapacitated or dies, it is important to have information about their insurance so claims can be filed for benefits in the case of health, disability, long-term care, and life insurance; and that other types of policies, such as homeowner’s or auto insurance, can eventually be modified or terminated.
- Ask them to compile a list of all of their accounts and property and other important personal information, including bank and investment accounts, titles to vehicles. deeds to homes, credit card accounts or loans, digital accounts (such as Facebook, Twitter, Netflix) and passwords, Social Security cards, passports and birth certificates, which will be needed to settle their affairs once they are gone. This information should be kept in a safe place and shared only with trusted family members or loved ones.
- A list of legal, financial, and medical professionals who have worked with your family members is also important. Be sure they include medical doctors and care providers, financial advisors, insurance agents, CPAs or tax professionals, business partners, care providers, and more. The list should include the professionals’ contact information so they can be easily reached in the event their help is needed.
Consult an estate planning attorney. Once you have this important conversation with your family members, they might realize it is time to contact an experienced estate planning attorney who can help them create an estate plan tailored to meet their needs and carry out their wishes. They might also realize they need to update a plan that no longer fits their goals and wishes. Our attorneys can help them ensure there is a plan in place that will prevent unnecessary stress, legal expenses, taxes, arguments between family members, and delays in passing their property to loved ones when they pass away. An estate plan will also provide them with the peace of mind that comes with knowing there is a plan in place for their care if they become ill. Please contact us today to set up a consultation.