Talking with your parents about their own estate planning can be an uncomfortable topic. However, it is much better to have this conversation now, rather than waiting for a crisis.
1. Meet with them alone and/or with your siblings. Do not include your own spouse, unless your parents ask that he/she be included in the discussion, or your parents bring up the topic in front of your spouse.
2. If you have your own estate plan, tell them about it, and explain why you thought it was important.
3. Let them know that you want to make sure that their intentions for healthcare and financial decisions are respected, in the event that they cannot make these decisions for themselves. Planning in advance is critical to ensure that their wishes are known. Make it clear that you are most concerned about them, not yourself or your inheritance. This is not about money, but your parents well-being. Your parents are in charge of their own decisions. You simply want to ensure that there is a plan in the event that they can no longer make their own decisions.
4. Tread lightly...ultimately it is their decision whether they wish to discuss this with you. If you are too pushy, you are going to turn off the conversation. It may be better to mention it briefly and see if they are open to talking with you. If they don't seem interested ask them if there might be a better time to discuss it. Perhaps they would like to have a family meeting with all of your siblings.
5. If and when they are ready to talk about it, make sure that you ask them the following important questions:
Do they have a Will, Trust, Power of Attorney or Health Care Proxy?
If yes, then how old are the documents? If they are more than five years old or circumstances have changed, it is a good idea to make an appointment with an estate planner to review the documents.
If yes, where are the original documents kept? If they are kept in a safe deposit box, find out where the key is. Your parents should make sure that an additional person is authorized to access the safe deposit box. Otherwise, without a court order no one will be able to access the documents when needed.
If they have any trust documents, do they know why they have them? If they don't know the purpose of the document, they should check with an estate planner to make sure that the trust accomplishes their goals.
Are you named in the Power of Attorney or Will as the fiduciary?
If yes, ask them to prepare a list of their accounts to keep with the documents. Are the accounts held jointly or individually? Are there beneficary designations? You don't need to know the balances on the accounts right now, unless they want to share this information. However, knowing which accounts they have will be very helpful if you need to act as the fiduciary. This is especially important for life insurance policies.
If their assets are over $1 million and they do not have a trust, you should encourage them to contact an estate planning and/or elder law attorney to discuss tax planning. Massachusetts imposes an estate tax on estates exceeding $1 million.
If you are named as the agent under the health care proxy, you need to know their wishes for end of life care.
6. If they don't have an estate plan in place, start by suggesting that they contact an attorney. If your parents are over 60, an elder law attorney is preferred. You can suggest that they contact an attorney, but ultimately, they are going to be the client. If possible, they should make the call to the attorney.
7. If your parents meet with an attorney, don't expect to be invited to the meeting. They can invite you to the meeting, if they choose, but do not assume that you should be included. The attorney should meet with your parents alone and only invite you into the meeting, if your parents want this.
The older that our parents get, the more important it is to be prepared. When a crisis occurs, you want to avoid chaos and court involvement. This can be avoided by advanced planning. We are here to help you with all of your estate planning, Medicaid planning and elder law needs.