How Adult Children Can Encourage Parents to Plan

/ June 9, 2011

Couple Cooking - iStockWe often talk about new parents needing an estate plan to ensure they have guardians appointed for their minor children (see the recent article Appointing a Guardian for Minor Children). However, older parents with adult children should also be encouraged to have an estate plan in place. We find that most individuals truly understand the need and importance of establishing an estate plan. Yet, we do realize there are many emotional obstacles individuals have to overcome before they are prepared to meet with an attorney. Oftentimes it takes coaxing from children to finally convince parents to take the first step to schedule a meeting. The other day someone asked what we suggested to encourage parents to draft an estate plan. While we are not experts in the field of psychology, or the dynamics of your family for that matter, here are some suggestions you might want to consider.

The Rational Approach

If your parents are rational beings, you might want to consider first simply inquiring whether or not mom or dad has an estate plan. You may actually be surprised to find that they have properly planned. Some individuals who have been proactive in their planning choose not to discuss it with anyone else, including children.

However, if they respond that they do not have a plan in place – you can embark upon a conversation to find out what has prevented them from doing so. Their reasons could be anything from lack of time, finances, and the emotional fear of confronting their deaths. It would be at this point when you could refute their stubbornness with the education of why it is important to have an estate plan (e.g. to ensure proper agents are appointed, to protect assets and ensure they are distributed appropriately, to reduce tax exposure, etc.) and remind them an estate plan is not just about what to do at death but also to plan for times of incapacity. The use of a more matter-of-fact discussion will hopefully convince them to follow through with drafting a plan.

The Emotional Approach

If you think it might take a little guilt trip or a tug at your parents’ heartstrings to get them to draft an estate plan, consider addressing the fact that you and/or your siblings do not want to be left with a mess to clean up or put in the position to make difficult decisions. If you and/or your siblings already have contentious issues between each other, explain to your parents that none of you should be put in the position to handle disputes when they are gone. Instead, if your parents properly plan, disputes will hopefully be lessened. Likewise, you can address the issue of incapacity and request that your parents express their preference about end-of-life decisions instead of leaving such troubling choices to you children.

Parents often do what they can to avoid ever burdening their children. However, if they pass away intestate or do not dictate their medical wishes, children can truly be left with a huge burden to bear. Encourage them to think about their wishes and then to put those wishes in a proper plan.

The Role Reversal Approach

Remember when you were a child and your parents would tell you a tale to illustrate an example of what not to do or to show you what happens when you do “X”?  You may want to consider reversing that role and telling your parents a tale of what happens when individuals die intestate. Most of us know a true story, even if it is once or twice removed from first-hand knowledge, about the family divided because they fought over details when mom and dad died. Your parents probably know a story or two themselves or give us a call and we’ll be sure to tell you of a few. Reiterating a story to which your parents can relate usually creates that “ah-ha” moment to make them take action.

Things to Remember

When you embark upon the conversation, make sure you are doing it out of sincere concern for their protection. Be sure not to come off as a greedy child who wants to know what he or she is inheriting. It is also wise to consider including siblings to make it a family discussion so no one feels left out of the conversation. Remind your parents that they do not have to share their wishes with you and/or your siblings – you’ll find them out when they pass away – but that it is a necessary exercise to get their affairs in order.

Lastly, and while it seems to be a shameless plug, don’t forget that Epilawg’s resources are a great way to educate your parents. Sharing one of our articles with your parents, such as the recent post Before You Go: Seven Practical Lessons Regarding Estate Settlement & Trust Administration, can be a simple method to spark the conversation.