It’s a tough situation and it happens more than you think. Often a parent refuses to create any type of estate plan in spite of advice to the contrary. Why does this happen? This article will discuss the reasons for this and things you can do to work with your parents if you are in this situation.
None of us wants to think about our own mortality. We don’t want to think of our loved one’s deaths so certainly we do not want to focus on our own. However, it is inevitable at some point in our lives so helping your loved ones plan not only helps them when it’s time to make difficult choices, it also helps you. Many elderly parents simply do not want to discuss their finances with anyone, especially their child. Many people who have money set aside want to keep the details of their financial situation from their children, encouraging their children to achieve their own wealth in life. It may also be the way they were raised; they simply did not discuss financial issues with others.
We will use a recent scenario to walk through a situation when an elderly parent won’t plan and how the family worked through this. Let’s look at Donald’s life as an illustration.
Donald was a widower, having lost his wife many years before. His only child was grown and he had no grandchildren. However, he was very close to his only child, his brother and his nephew. Donald had worked very hard over his lifetime and had saved a large amount of money. He had never shared where he banked with any of his family and he kept his records in a safe. He also had several pieces of land, including a home and a vacation home.
Donald was healthy but was in his mid 70’s. His daughter had tried to speak with him about the creation of a Will. Although he agreed to work on it, he never followed through. His comment was that everything would naturally go to her and she could make sure it got where it needed to be. Donald did not want to face his own mortality and he certainly did not want to discuss it with anyone.
When an elderly parent won’t plan, it places enormous pressure on the family members. Even in this situation, where there is but one child, she will need to make all decisions without his input when he is gone. This may not sound like a huge issue since she is the only child but let’s walk through this scenario a bit more.
Donald learns that he has a kidney disease and he is unable to be treated with dialysis or other treatments. They execute a power of attorney so she can make medical decisions on his behalf. After he is hospitalized and is unable to communicate regularly, his daughter wants to respect all of his wishes so she speaks with him when he is awake, trying to determine everything she must do.
In addition to dealing with losing her father, she is also working to meet his last requests which she knows are very important to him. He provides the information as much as he is able but soon he is unresponsive. The doctors advise that he will be moved to hospice and may not make it longer than a week. After he is gone, the Power of Attorney will no longer be in effect. It’s critical that everything be set up for his estate before he passes.
The types of decisions that must be made when an elderly parent won’t plan are not easy. They can begin during the stages of a person’s illness, their last days of life or after they are gone. They are decisions on burial, services, notification, access to accounts, location of accounts and much more. If a loved one does not know that her parent has life insurance, for example, she will not know to look for it and send them a copy of the death certificate. Burials and services are expensive and families often use life insurance proceeds to offset the cost.
Timing is everything. When you attempt to speak with your loved ones, make sure it’s the right time. Set aside plenty of time in case they are willing to talk about it. Be open to re-scheduling a time if they need to talk another time. If they are willing to talk, be sure you have a game plan. Tell them you just want to make a list of where things are located for the future and gain an understanding of their wishes. That way you aren’t asking to access now and you aren’t asking for the details of their finances. This is a safer approach. Explain that you just want to be sure that things are handled at the appropriate time when you may be overcome with emotion and cannot think straight.
Finally, if your parent indicates that this has all been done and they have worked with another family member to take care of this, remember that this is their life and their choice.
It is not easy to have these conversations with our loved ones but they are so necessary; for them and for us. Jason works with families to help design the best plan with the family’s wishes in mind. He tailors each plan to the specific needs of the person. If you are looking for an experienced estate planning lawyer to work with you and someone to help you work with your parent or other family members, reach out to our office. You can contact us here.