Talking to Aging Parents About Their Estate
Now that you've gotten your aging parents to talk about what they want to be done at the end of their life comes the hard part; talking about what they want to do toward the end, before they die but if they become incapacitated or ill, it's time to move that discussion in another direction. Again, it's really difficult to get some older people to talk about this stuff, but the discussion is only half over; in addition to talking to them about end of life care, it's time to talk to them about what happens after their life is over.
Once again, if you wait until such a discussion is needed, it's probably too late. But to protect their assets and their wishes after they pass away, they'll need a will. The will is critical to even have a small shot at avoiding the probate process, or at least making it a little bit easier to deal with. If they have multiple children, a will is the only possible way to reduce family infighting, and if they want to give a lot of their money to charity, the only way to do that is through a will. Without a will, the state will distribute everything, according to a predetermined formula, which is usually to no one's benefit.
However, a will is only a small part of an overall estate plan. Estate planning is not just for the very wealthy; most people have more money and assets than they realize; estate plans are for everyone. Your parents may have a couple of IRAs, maybe a 401(k), a few Money Markets, their home, and maybe a couple of investment accounts that are small now but may be much larger in 10-15 years; there may even be a couple of accounts out there earmarked for the grandchildren's education; if they want that money to go for a specific purpose, a good estate plan will do that, and it could be a lot more necessary later than it is now.
It's also necessary to account for life insurance policies, cars and personal possessions that may carry mostly sentimental value, and everyone could benefit from a solid estate plan. Everyone who wants to maximize and maintain control over the use of their assets after they are gone should create an estate plan that allows them to make all of the right decisions while they still can. Explain to the parents who brought you into this world and had a great hand in making you into the person you are today that, by taking control of everything now, what they leave behind will go a lot further and that making decisions now will cement their legacy and the legacy of the family.
Let's face it; we need to think about our parents as we and they get older, and we have to consider the best ways we can take care of them as their caring and responsible sons and daughters. Just because a discussion is difficult doesn't mean it's not worth having, and this one is vitally important. That doesn't mean we should show up on the next holiday visit with an army of lawyers and a pile of important documents, but we do have to breach the discussion. Who knows; they may already have a plan and you won't have to worry about it at all. Although, don't count on it.