Uncomfortable Conversations About Estate Planning (Part 2 of 2)

By Robert J. Green, Esq.

My clients frequently express to me how difficult it can be to speak to their family members about the decisions they have made (or are in the process of making) when we are working on their estate planning documents.  Sometimes the issue is that a parent’s adult children refuse to discuss these matters because the children are not willing to acknowledge that their parent will die at some point.  Other times the issue is a child that cannot get their parents to acknowledge the need to get their affairs in order.  The unique dynamics that every family has can often compound the general problem of one person or the other not wanting to discuss these matters.  Last week we examined the first of the two situations I’ve mentioned above.  Today, let’s look at some ideas for adult children on how to motivate their parents to get estate planning in order.

As a reminder, an “estate plan” is simply the collection of documents that almost every adult in Idaho should have in place to effectively deal with what to do if that person is incapacitated (becomes unable to make their own decisions for any reason) or is deceased.  These documents typically include a Last Will & Testament, a Power of Attorney for Health Care Decisions, a Power of Attorney for Financial Decisions, Advanced Directive Documents like Living Wills and Physician’s Orders for Scope of Treatment, a HIPAA Medical Privacy Waiver, and possibly a Revocable Living Trust. 

There can be many reasons that a person is not interested in getting an estate plan in order.  Most often, however, I have found that avoiding estate planning is based on either procrastination or presumption.  In the case of procrastination, the issue is a simple one – a misconception about the certainty of tomorrow.  However, at some level all of us know that we cannot be sure of what tomorrow will bring.  Becoming incapacitated to the extent of not being able to make one’s own decisions can become a reality for any of us at any point in life, especially if that life is a long one.  And death is, of course, in all of our futures.  So, there really is no rational justification for the idea that a person just doesn’t need to concern themselves with estate planning “yet.”

One of the best ways for an adult child to combat their parent’s procrastination is by way of examples of things gone wrong.  Often an adult child will watch a friend or co-worker live through a nightmare scenario in which neglect of estate planning results in unfortunate and unnecessary outcomes.  Sharing those stories with reluctant aging parents can often spur on some incentive to attend to this important matter.  Another approach can be for the adult child to simply and honestly tell the parent that as the person who will most likely have to deal with whatever planning is or is not done when a crisis strikes, the child would appreciate it if the parent would set things up correctly now.

When a parent makes certain false presumptions about what estate planning is, and who needs such planning, they are also more likely to avoid getting these documents in place.  The most common false presumption is that only wealthy people need estate plans.  No matter one’s level of wealth, almost every person needs at least basic legal planning documentation in place to avoid undesirable outcomes.  However, some parents simply misunderstand who needs estate planning, and therefore never plan themselves.

For the adult child trying to help a parent understand the importance of estate planning regardless of level of wealth, one of the best approaches can be collecting good information on the topic and providing it to the parent directly.  There are numerous quality sources of info online about the importance of estate planning.  Some law firms, like my own, will offer free personal consultations to potential clients to discuss estate planning for their specific needs.  Taking advantage of such a free consultation with an attorney can be an excellent way for the parent to learn the importance of estate planning without obligating themselves to anything.   

If you have any doubts about whether you or your parents have all necessary legal documents in place, do not hesitate to speak to a qualified estate planning attorney.  This is a simple task that is well worth your time to get accomplished now – before a crisis occurs.

This has been presented as general information and not as legal advice. Do not engage in legal decision-making without the advice of a competent attorney after discussion of your specific circumstances.