By: Martin M. Shenkman, CPA, MBA, JD
If you suspect that your elderly parents do not have estate planning in place, you should broach them about the topic. If they should become incapacitated either mentally or physically, they will need essential documents such as powers of attorney, living wills, health care proxies, and wills. Approaching parents about this topic can often be difficult to do.
Often the best way to open a discussion with elderly parents is by focusing on personal, not money, issues. Ask if they have a living will. If not, do they have specific personal wishes they may want respected? Religious preferences? Who do they want to name as their agent? If you open with non-money issues it is less offensive and your parents are less likely to feel you are motivated by greed rather than by concern for them. There is no shortage of real life problems in the press that can be used to remind your parents of the importance of addressing these issues. Use a current article or story you heard recently as a catalyst for a discussion about your parents planning. The tone and approach should be "Mom....I'm worried....How can I help you?" How can I make sure that what doctors do to you is what you want done yourself? Once the door is opened you can continue to address the most vital personal issues: "Mom did you sign a living will and health care proxy? Did you give copies to your agent? (that is instead of asking for a copy for yourself in case a sibling or other family member was named). "Mom did you prepare a power of attorney so if you become ill someone can make sure your bills are paid? Can I help?" Once the initial hurdle is surmounted, you can go on to address the other issues.
There are a lot of issues that must be discussed, so be sure you know what you want to say. The last thing that you want to happen is that you forget to address a specific issue and you have to approach the uncomfortable issue again.
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