How can I encourage my parents to plan?

How can I encourage my parents to plan?

  • February 4, 2014

If you have brought up the topic of estate planning with your parents only to be cut off with the response that "it's done" or "it's taken care of," do not let the discussion end there.  Too much is at risk.  You need to make sure they have a sound plan in place that is compatible with current laws.

Even if they have a plan, you need to make sure it is up-to-date with the constantly changing circumstances of your family, as well as the law.  Trusts, wills, and other legal documents should be reviewed and updated at least every two to three years to keep them current.  You are doing your parents a favor by encouraging them to have their estate planning documents regularly reviewed. 

By taking the following steps, you can promote a successful estate planning conversation with your parents:

  • Pick a time and place that will be free of interruptions;
  • Provide your parents with copies of this book and its companion publication, Your Life, Your Legacy:  The Fundamentals of Effective Estate Planning, with the relevant sections highlighted, before you meet; and
  • Prepare an agenda of discussion topics.

Consider the following events good opportunities to start the discussion:

  • Your parents have just attended a funeral or visited a cemetery.  You can say, "I really need to talk to you about what happens if you are not here anymore."
  • When the issue of tax reform is seen in a newspaper or on the television, you may state, "I see there have been a lot of changes in the estate tax laws.  Have you thought about how they affect your estate plan?"
  • When you plan your own estate, tell your parents about it!  Inform them about your plan and then inquire about theirs.  Ask them if they are willing to discuss their plan with your attorney so your plan and theirs will work in tandem to best protect you and your children (their grandchildren).

Parents often say that everything is taken care of to avoid discussing this difficult topic, but if you wait for a crisis to occur before you insist on talking about it, it is usually too late.  Planning done in a crisis is stressful, costs more, and limits your options for decision-making.  Help your parents plan ahead to avoid this situation.

Even if your parents clearly have a plan in place, ask them whether an attorney who does only estate planning prepared it.  The days are long past when the many complex issues invoiced with planning an estate could be entrusted to general practitioners who try to "do it all."  This is not an area of the law in which an attorney should dibble.  Many of the estate plans we review miss important planning opportunities or are just plain wrong.  Let your parents know that it makes a lot of sense to get a second opinion of their documents from an attorney whose legal practice is dedicated to helping their clients plan their estates.  Doing so will also help your parents overcome their resistance to planning their estate.