Talking with aging parents about estate planning is uncomfortable but necessary.
People often avoid unpleasant conversations about various “elephants” in the room.
Although avoiding an “elephant” can make everyone in the room feel less anxious in the moment, the relief is temporary when the elephant begins to move about.
Unfortunately, “elephant avoidance” among family members now can lead to otherwise avoidable complications down the road.
For example, how many parents avoid “having the talk” with their teenagers until, well, it is too late?
Now, with the shoe on the other foot and your aging parents the subject, neither you nor they can afford to kick the proverbial estate planning can down the road any further.
According to a recent Next Avenue article titled “Mom, Do You Have a Will?,” adult children often avoid talking with their aging parents about estate planning.
I get it.
The whole topic of “death” is not on the “Top 10” list of anyone’s favorite Kaffeeklatsch topics.
For many boomers, bringing up the eventual death of aging parents can stir up a lot of emotions like fear and sadness.
Nevertheless, failing to have a conversation about whether your parents have an estate plan can make it harder for you to honor their wishes.
If you are having a hard time starting the conversation, then try asking a simple open-ended question this: “how would you want your estate handled if something happened to you today?”
You might be surprised at their response.
They likely will be relieved that you broke the ice, so to speak.
It can be comforting for aging parents to know their children care about honoring their choices and their legacy.
For parents who have more than one child or who want to leave assets to a friend or a charity, careful attention must be paid to ensure the proper “alignment” of asset titles and all beneficiary designations with any estate planning documents (think last will and testament, revocable living trust, etc.).
Many an estate plan has gone off the rails (and into litigation) because the title and beneficiary designations sent assets in a different direction than directed in the legal documents!
More on this later, especially when it comes to “domestic partner” scenarios.
If your parents remarried and created a blended family, they will need to exercise greater care when addressing their estate planning objectives to avoid “unintentionally” disinheriting their surviving spouse or their own children.
A last will and testament is also key to naming a guardian for any minor children, if relevant.
Talking with your aging parents about whether they have an estate plan is helpful if your family is prone to fighting.
Fact of life: the death of a parent either brings out the best or the worst in their children.
By clarifying their wishes, your parents can reduce the risk of prolonged estate battles.
What if your widowed parent did not remarry but is in a “domestic partnership”?
If your parent wants to include the domestic partner in the estate, then estate planning must be done.
Typically, state intestacy laws make no inheritance provision for a domestic partner.
On the other hand, what if your parent and domestic partner are in a state that recognizes “common law” marriage (like Kansas, but not Missouri)?
What your parent dies first and the domestic partner suddenly makes a claim against the estate as the common law “surviving spouse” to the surprise of everyone in the family?
You get the picture.
Planning pointer: a current estate plan in which your parent legally declares his or her marital status as “single” will help defuse and even defend against such a claim against the estate.
Another “domestic partner” trap?
It is essential to educate your parent on the consequences of asset titling and beneficiary designations.
Asset titling and beneficiary designations trump the terms of an estate plan when there is a failure to properly “align” the assets with the estate plan.
I have taken too many calls over the decades from distressed children who have lost a parent only to discover that the family home or farm they were to inherit has passed to their father’s “girlfriend” (and her children) by asset title even though the last will or revocable living trust states otherwise.
When talking with your aging parents about estate planning, you may need to dig a little deeper than whether they already have a last will or revocable living trust.
Because any last will or revocable living trust they do have in place is likely old, irrelevant, or invalid.
If your aging parents do not have a current estate plan or have a stale plan in dire need of review, encourage them to find and work with an experienced estate planning attorney.
Reference: Next Avenue (Sep. 14, 2022) “Mom, Do You Have a Will?”