Depending on the eccentricities of your family, the “talk” that you received, probably around the age of 13 or 14, was either something so horrifying that you swore off any of those activities for the entirety of your life (which probably didn’t happen) or you were so weirded out by the openness of your Mom, you wanted that image out of your mind for the rest of your life (which probably did happen). Now though, it appears the dreaded “talk” is back in season and this time, instead of having Mom explain the female reproductive system, you’re going to explore the financial dynamics of Mom and Dad’s lives in such a way that will probably a bit uncomfortable for one or both of you. Only you know whether a serious or humorous approach works, but here are a few things you likely want to avoid when it comes to the will, estate planning and insurance.
Unless you’re talking about the bizarre TV show of a few years ago, using the word “lost” likely isn’t a good way to start. Case in point: in the grocery store a few weeks ago, I overheard a woman say to her mother, “Really, Mom? This is like the third time you’ve lost your wallet this month”. Neither party was overly concerned since the daughter had asked her prior to leaving the house if she had it, so they knew it was somewhere nearby (and it was – in the daughter’s own purse), but it’s what the mother mumbled under her breath that was so funny to anyone standing behind the mother daughter duo. Mom mumbled, “I’d like to lose her sometimes and if she disrespects me one more time, she’s going to lose a tooth or two”. Of course, the daughter didn’t hear it, but admittedly, it felt a bit like maternal justice.
The point is – you don’t want to patronize your parents (or other loved ones). What do you want to do is avoid having a judge determine who will oversee a parent’s medical and financial decisions should they become incapacitated. You can bring up a power of attorney in such a way that doesn’t insult them, but that can help them feel empowered. Another tip: remind them that just because you’re the one bringing it up, they should make their decisions exclusive of your presence. Unless there’s a sibling who is completely irresponsible, the goal is to ensure they remain empowered.
And speaking of siblings – even though you may believe you’re the favorite (and really, who doesn’t believe they’re Dad’s favorite?), now’s not the time to challenge that belief. Creating a will isn’t easy and if you’ve been through it, you know how emotionally draining it can be. Ensure that first, whatever they decide is fine with you and second, offer to schedule an appointment with an estate planning lawyer. If they need assistance with driving, offer to drive them and let them know that you’ll be patiently waiting in the reception area. Again, it’s less about who’s getting what, and instead, should be more about their ability to decide for themselves how it looks when it’s finished. The key is to have this done while they’re able to do so. Otherwise, you could have a judge make those determinations, which rarely is pleasant. Aside from that, your job is to support your parents and their decisions. Knowing a will is in place will provide peace of mind for you as well.
Finally, the time to ask Dad if he has a medical power of attorney or healthcare directive isn’t when he’s under the weather. If you don’t know if he has one or if you know he doesn’t, the time to bring it up is, well, anytime he’s NOT sick. Encourage him to consider what kind of care he wants should he become incapacitated. Would he want extraordinary measures be taken to keep his heart beating? If these questions are too emotional for you, encourage him to speak with his doctor and his estate planning lawyer, both of whom can explore these sensitive questions without the emotion that a family member feels.
Ultimately, your goal is to remain respectful and to keep as much stress as possible out of the mix. Ideally, these are questions your parents have already asked and answered themselves; still, it’s important for you and your family to know that first, they exist, and second, where the documents can be found – especially when it comes to their healthcare.
Our law firm offers free Londonderry estate planning consultation. We invite you to contact us online today, or call us at (603) 894-4141 or (978) 686-4645 and learn more.