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by Liz Knueven
January 07, 2021
by Liz Knueven
January 07, 2021
No one wants to have the conversation with their parents about what will happen when they're gone, but it's a talk that needs to be had.
Florida estate planning attorney Sherri Stinson says having this conversation isn't rude or fatalistic. Rather, it's about following their wishes. "Estate planning is the ultimate act of love," says Stinson. "You're showing the person that you care about their well-being and that you care about things going the way they should."
Stinson says that a conversation about estate planning should be about empowering your parents to make decisions for themselves, even if it can be scary. "I always tell people in my practice that this is about making your voice heard and getting what you want," she says.
Here's how to make the conversation happen with your parent or parents.
"The best time is now," Stinson says. "Anything can happen at any time." Putting off estate planning and the conversations surrounding it won't make anything easier.
While some people put off estate planning for the cost, Stinson says that ultimately, that doesn't help either — having to go to court over an estate is much more expensive. "If you end up in front of the court, you're going to spend two, three, sometimes four times more," she says.
By taking care of it today, you can make sure that you, your siblings, and your parents are protected if something happens.
If your parent or parents haven't started the process of estate planning, now is the time to find someone to help. Searching for an estate planning attorney or a financial planner who specializes in estate planning is a good way to start.
"When you go shopping for someone to do your estate planning, make sure that it's somebody who does it regularly," recommends Stinson. "You're not going to go to a gastroenterologist for heart surgery, right? You're going to go to the person who specializes in it."
Once your parents have done the preliminary steps of planning, you'll want to get your siblings involved and talk about it.
Stinson says that having a prompt to initiate the conversation can help make it less difficult. "A lot of times, you can use things like news articles to kind of segue into the conversation," she says. Other times, it can be effective to use a recent family event to start the conversation or start by being transparent about your own planning.
Additionally, Stinson recommends planning the conversation in advance. "You don't want to catch them off guard," she says. Set a time for the conversation so that everyone can be prepared with the right paperwork and, most importantly, the right attitudes.
Talking about estate plans as a family can help ease the tensions that can come with that kind of conversation. "If you make it a family conversation about knowing what your parents want, that will take some of the pressure off," Stinson says. Additionally, going over this as a family can help ensure everyone is on the same page, and prevent squabbling when the plan needs to be put into motion.
Stinson has found that having one sibling managing the whole estate planning leads to problems. "I get phone calls all the time where someone will say, 'Well, my mom and dad wanted me to make a will, and want me to handle everything,'" she says. "But you have to look at the flip side of that. If you've been the one guiding and controlling the conversation, and then you get a lot more than your siblings, somebody's going to be upset," she says.
Having everyone involved ensures that "nothing is being done in secret," Stinson says.
A full estate plan will encompass everything from who makes the parents' healthcare decisions if they can't, to financial plans, and even a trust, if needed. Stinson says that estate planning is divided up into two parts: incapacity planning and death planning.
Incapacity planning focuses on wishes and decision-making if the parent or person can't, including:
Next, make sure paperwork is in line for the second part of estate planning: death planning. Look for:
It might feel like the tables have turned at this point: After years of goading you to take the right steps in life, it's your turn to do it to your parents.
"There's a paradigm shift that takes place as your parents start to age," Stinson says. Now, you're the one they may be turning to for help, and estate planning can be one time that's very apparent.
Your parent or parents may be afraid to talk about it. Or, there's a chance that parents may not have done any estate planning yet, or haven't done so adequately. Stinson recommends letting them know that you're there to help. "For some people, going to see a lawyer can be like a really big and scary thing," she says. "Let them know that they can ask for help with this."