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12 Savvy Ways to Help You Start the Estate Planning Conversation with a Parent

April 20, 2018 by Cheryl Proska in For Individuals, For Professionals

For your entire life, your parents have stressed to you the importance of being prepared and planning ahead. Now, it may be your turn to offer them that same guidance. This is especially the case if they haven’t completed the estate planning process.

There may be several reasons aging parents haven’t yet tackled this critical task, such as:

  • they consider it too morbid to discuss or complete
  • it sounds too stressful, and/or
  • they feel they don’t have enough assets to warrant an estate plan.

But even in the case where they don’t feel they have much in the way of assets that need protecting, creating an estate plan is vital to taking care of what they do have (and it’s probably more than they think), helping family members avoid unnecessary tax liabilities, and reducing stress and expenses for their next of kin.

So, if you fear your parents don’t have an estate plan, it’s important to turn the tables on them and get them thinking, talking about and — most importantly — planning for the future.

Starting the process

It’s natural to feel awkward about starting the estate planning conversation with a parent. It can be a sensitive subject for all parties involved. But there are ways to ease into the topic without making anyone feel vulnerable or under attack.

Best practices (in no particular order) for starting the estate planning conversation:

1. Schedule a time for the discussion

Establishing a concrete time to talk about your parent’s estate plan and wishes can be more effective than springing the topic on them. Bringing the topic up seemingly out of the blue can put them on the defensive, which will be counterproductive.

2. Don’t bring it up during an emotional time

People are more likely to put their guard up when emotions are running high. Wait for a calm time to get your parent’s undivided, unbiased attention.

3. Start with a story

A great way to naturally ease into the conversation is to start by telling a story. Explain that you recently read an article, saw a report on TV or spoke to someone, and it prompted you to think about the importance of estate planning. First, share the story (find one if you have to). Next, explain why it appealed to you and got you thinking. Then, ask your parent if they have an estate plan.

4. Don’t lump everything into one conversation

The goal should be to get the estate planning process started, not begin and complete the process all in one shot. The more challenging the process seems from the get-go, the more likely it is people will abandon it — or avoid it altogether. Start with baby steps, like an initial talk about the importance of planning. Then, consider reaching out to an estate planning attorney or Intervention Associates Professional Care Manager, who can help start the process.

5. Start small

Another way to initiate the process, without making it seem overwhelming, is to ask when was the last time your parent reviewed their beneficiary information on their life insurance policy or retirement plan. Do they have everyone’s names, addresses and contact information 100% correct? This kind of a discussion can be the perfect jumping off point for a larger conversation about estate planning.

6. Lead by example

Create an estate plan yourself, and share that info with your parent. Use your own plan as a segue into discussing your parent’s plans — or lack thereof. Just knowing you’ve planned for the future, and have gone through the process and understand it, could provide the motivation they need to get started.

7. Do the legwork

Find an estate planner or elder law attorney who can help with the process. Do a little research on the rules and regulations in your state, so your parent doesn’t have to. Or, better yet, tell them you’re going to talk with an estate planner about your own plan, and invite your parent to tag along.

8. Invite them to an estate planning seminar

A seminar on estate planning is a great way to introduce your parent to the subject. Again, you could approach this as something you’re interested in doing for yourself — and you’re just inviting them to tag along. A seminar can explain the benefits of estate planning and introduce you both to the basics of getting started. (Tip: Look for seminars conducted by licensed attorneys, and don’t sign up for any insurance or investment products that may be offered without first consulting an estate planning or elder law attorney.)

9. Make it about family, not money

It’s not uncommon for parents to feel threatened during these discussions. They may feel like people are only interested in getting their money. To ease those concerns, make it clear this is not about protecting your inheritance. Explain you’re willing to abide by their wishes, and you want to ensure their estate is divided up exactly the way they want it to be. You could even bring up how much of a stress reliever it will be on you and your siblings to know there is a plan in place — so you’re not all stuck shouldering the load.

10. Make it clear you know privacy is a concern

Financial privacy is often a big concern for parents. So let them know that you’re sensitive to that and you’re willing to keep any decisions they make private — even if it means not knowing what they are yourself.

11. Stress the tax advantages

Regardless of how wealthy your parent is or how many assets they have to protect, stress that there are tax advantages that can be gained from creating an estate plan now.

12. Appeal to their sense of philanthropy

If your parent provides financial gifts to a local nonprofit, church or other organization, and wishes to continue to do so, explain that setting up an estate plan can ensure their gift giving will continue.

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