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An important issue, whether discussing plans with elderly parents or adult children, is to make sure all important documents are in one place, and that everyone knows where they are. Many estates take much longer to settle than necessary because documents are misplaced or their whereabouts are unknown.

Discussions with Adult Children

When it comes to discussing your own plans with your children, you may be reluctant to share the details of your finances or risk conflict or hurt feelings among them. However, the majority of conflicts happen as a result of failure to communicate.

  • You need to be clear in your own mind what capabilities and confidence you want your children to have with regards to money. You probably want your children to be able to support themselves. Do you want them to see any potential inheritance as a safety net, as a way to fund their own children’s education, or to serve some other purpose?
  • Be mindful of your tone. There is a risk that parents can come across as too controlling. Don’t forget that an estate can be seen as more than a sum of its parts. It can be seen as an expression of love, control, or power, and it can bring up powerful emotions among family members.
  • Create a family mission statement. You may come up with a list of values that you and your children share. For example, you may agree that philanthropy is important to all of you, which may lead to inclusion of a favorite cause in your will or the creation of a family foundation.
  • Tell your children what your plans are with regard to advance directives for health care. Even if you have it documented legally, it will be easier for them to make potentially difficult decisions in the event you become incapacitated if you have personally communicated your wishes to them.

Discussions with Elderly Parents

If you are confident that your parents have saved, invested, and planned wisely, you may not have much of a role, other than to help them keep open lines of communication with you and other family members about their intentions. Keep in mind that any conversation with elderly parents needs to be focused on them and  their intentions, not your own needs or desires. An inheritance is a gift, not a right, and estate planning is about enabling your parents to have control rather than abdicating their wishes to the government or another third party. If you have concerns that they haven’t protected their assets, you may need to begin a conversation with them.

  • A good way to begin a conversation is by asking your parents to help you understand what they want. For example, you may say something like, “Dad, I really want to carry out your wishes, but I need to understand them.”
  • Stay focused on your parents’ concerns. You may find that they worry about outliving their resources or that family members will fight over the estate. Help them to address these concerns rather than avoiding them.
  • Understand and acknowledge that they may not be comfortable discussing these issues with you. Offer to help them find and set up an appointment with a qualified financial planner and estate planning attorney.
  • Share your own experiences with setting up an estate plan as a way to open a conversation about your parents’ wishes. For example, you may say something like, “Mom, I just learned that if I set up a trust, I can…” or “I wanted you to know that in case anything happens to me, I assigned Bob as my durable health care power of attorney.”

Discussing Estate Planning with Family Members

As the holidays approach, many families look forward to the opportunity for multiple generations to come together to share a meal and celebrate the season. This is a time to take a break from the everyday routines of school and work, to share old memories and create new ones.

Having multiple generations together can, let’s face it, also be the cause of some stress. Many people make plans to discuss family estate planning and other financial arrangements during this time of togetherness. These conversations have the potential to be awkward for a variety of reasons. It forces people to consider their mortality, it brings up family dynamics that may be uncomfortable, and discussions of personal finances can feel intrusive. In fact, surveys show that the majority of Americans rarely discuss estate planning with their families.

However, if you can communicate now with your parents about their intentions, or with your adult children about your own, you may be able to avoid future confusion and bad will among family members. Below are some tips for discussing estate planning within the generations of your family.

Family Discussions