We have always emphasized to our clients the importance of doing their own estate planning before it is too late. At Littman Krooks LLP, we often hear from children who are concerned that their parents may not have an estate plan in place. The children are worried that if something happens to one or both parents, the children will not be equipped to assist their parents, and many times the children have no idea where the parents stand financially. Understandably, these subjects may be hard for children to discuss with their parents. The children do not want to appear greedy, and the parents may fear loss of control or independence. How can you approach your parents about these issues?
First, you should get your own house in order; make sure that you have executed your own will, durable power of attorney, health care proxy and living will. After you finish your own estate planning, it will be a lot easier for you to approach your parents about doing their estate planning. Perhaps you could mention to your parents that you have just recently taken care of these matters and inquire as to whether they have done the same. For many, the goal is to balance the desire to maintain control with the need to plan properly. It is critical to not wait until an emergency strikes to start planning. It might not be wise to first ask your parents if they have done a will; this approach may reinforce any impression of greediness on your part, and it could scare away those parents who don’t want to think about their own mortality. Focus instead on the durable power of attorney and medical decisions for them if they cannot make decisions for themselves. You can give the example of a temporary disability that may require someone to help pay the bills or make medical decisions.
If your parents already have a plan in place, then see if they will let you know where they keep their documents. If you can, ask to review their documents and ask for the name of their attorney. The attorney may not be able to talk with you at that point in time, but you will know where to turn in case of an emergency. If your parents do not have a plan in place, then you should suggest that they make an appointment with an attorney who specializes in elder law or estate planning. Your parents may ask you to schedule an appointment for them, but you need to be aware that the parents, not the children, will be the clients of the attorney. You will also want to know where your parents keep other important documents such as safe deposit box keys, birth certificates, passports, deeds, insurance policies, investment and bank statements, tax returns, Social Security numbers, and medical insurance cards and information.
If your parents do not want to share this information with you, then ask them to prepare a list and let you know where the list can be found in case of an emergency. Nobody likes to think about their own mortality or infirmity. However, you and your loved ones can make things a lot easier for your family by taking the time to plan in advance.