By Patti Cotton
Making plans for the end of life is important, but it’s a topic a lot of people tend to avoid. In fact, surveys show that some 60 percent of Americans lack a will or estate plan.
Yet, if you were to ask, most of them would assure you they want to care for their family after they die. They want to safeguard the assets they’ve carefully built over the years, keep them in the family, and make sure Uncle Sam doesn’t take the lion’s share.
How do you find out if your own parents have taken care of their plans? Adult children find it challenging to talk with their parents about such things. The subject can be sensitive and emotional. You may worry about appearing self-serving. Yet, it’s important for you to have such details so that you can be better prepared.
Here are some ways to make the topic easier to broach.
1. Watch for off-handed cues, such as your father mentioning his mortality or the reference to having attended a friend’s funeral. This is an opportunity to mention that as much as you don’t want to think about it, you want to respect their wishes, should a critical health situation come into play. Do they have an advance directive and power of attorney? Tell them you need to know in order to help carry out their wishes.
2. Ask your parents for advice on your own estate plan. Inquire as to how they have handled their own will or trust, and open with such questions as, “Who is on your team of professionals for your estate?” Refer to having reviewed your life insurance policy to make sure your beneficiaries are current and ask if they have checked theirs lately to make sure their beneficiaries are up to date.
3. Set an appointment to talk with your parents. If an opening does not come up to talk about this casually, set a time with them to discuss it. Let them know this meeting is about making sure their wishes for the future are respected. When you meet, assure them that you don’t want to guess about their desires and have some questions that address some delicate but important areas.
Once the door opens for you to talk with them about this, be sure you don’t shut it quickly. Assure them you have asked for this conversation in order to make sure they are well taken care of.
Once you begin exploring the details, don’t put your parents on the defensive. Asking why your parents have decided certain things the way they have can cause sensitivity. Instead, as they share information, mirror this back to them so that they feel heard.
An example would be, “What I hear you saying, Mom, is that you prefer to be cremated rather than buried, is that right?” Take it slow, allow them to express feelings about the choices they have made for their future. If they are reticent to talk about money, tell them numbers are not important – you just want to make sure they have planned well for what lies ahead.
If you can set the stage for an honest and candid discussion, be sure you include addressing the following four things: (1) A will or trust with a coordinated estate plan; (2) an advance health care directive; (3) a durable power of attorney; and (4) a list of assets and where they store important documents you might need when the time comes.
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