One can never truly be prepared for the death of a parent. It is a thought many of us don’t even want to think about, much less discuss. However, death is a reality we all must face for ourselves and our elders. Putting the conversation of estate planning off until they are no longer able to participate only makes hard decisions harder. Once a parent passes or becomes incapacitated, emotions run high and thoughts become unclear. That is not the time to decide how personal belongings and affairs should be disposed of. In fact, these discussions should be had not at the end of life, but much sooner, while the parent is still in good health and of clear mind. Waiting until they are sick or in hospice is nearly as bad and traumatic as waiting until after death.
Depending on your parent’s disposition and views on their own mortality, you may need to broach the topic multiple times before they are willing to discuss. For some parents, discussing their final arrangements is a reminder of their age. It makes them feel helpless and afraid, so they avoid it. In such cases, it can be helpful to ease them into it by discussing your own estate planning first. The following example could help you segue into the appropriate conversation: “I want to make sure the kids are taken care of if anything happens to me. I had a lawyer draw up some official documents. I want everyone in the family to have a copy.” Most grandparents have a soft spot for their grandchildren, so they will at least look it over and have a few questions to ask. When the moment is right, offer to help them create something similar. If they seem overwhelmed or confused, tell them a lawyer will help straighten it all out. If they are too resistant, wait a while before bringing it up again. Be persistent yet considerate of their feelings.
However, some parents feel empowered by the thought of planning the final details of their lives. It gives them solace to know their arrangements will be handled exactly as they see fit. Parents like these are motivated, so they will probably approach you about planning their estate. They may ask you for lawyer recommendations or ask you to attend a meeting they’ve already arranged. Be sure all important parties (siblings, aunts, uncles) are in attendance. If they cannot attend physically, consider conference calls or video chats to ensure everyone understands the wishes of the parent.
Depending on the number of assets, estate planning can be as simple as drafting a basic will or as complicated as establishing trusts, guardians, executors and/or POAs (power of attorney). The complexity and amount of detail will vary from person to person and can be as specific as listing explicit instructions to follow for funeral arrangements. If large amounts of money or property are involved, disputes may arise among family members as details are finalized, but as the decisions will be coming directly from the owner of the will, it is better than any disputes due to the absence of any estate planning at all. Doing this with a lawyer will help create a safe space for the parent to speak honestly. Overall, the important thing is that your parent has the opportunity to handle the disposal of their own affairs, and later give their loved ones guidance during a stressful time. Planning ahead will also give you peace of mind knowing you are carrying out their direct wishes.