woman talking to her mother about estate planning

How should I discuss estate planning with my aging parents?

Having conversations about estate planning with your aging parents might not seem like an enticing task, but it is an important one. As difficult as it might be to think that your parents may not be around one day, the unfortunate truth of the matter is that at some point we all leave this world behind. Having a plan for that time makes a very difficult situation much less stressful, as loved ones can begin to enact the decedent’s vision for the world they wanted to leave behind.

For parents that avoid the subject, remind them that it is better to have a plan than no plan at all. In the event they pass without a will, the state dictates who their property goes to, with loved ones having absolutely no say in the matter. There may also be confusion or hardship in the wake of their passing, especially when it comes to probate and taxes. Estate planning can mitigate these issues while providing clear guidance to those managing the estate.

The bottom line is that people want to know with confidence that their legacy is preserved and that the things they wanted to happen in the wake of their death are documented. You can start the conversation with your own parents by reaching out to a New Jersey estate planning lawyer at Van Dyck Law Group. We are highly experienced in all aspects of New Jersey estate and probate law, and we can help your family work through tough conversations to get to a point where everyone is confident and comfortable about what the future may hold.

What Topics Should I Cover in These Conversations?

Estate planning can cover so much more than just financial decisions. Here are some of the advance care questions you should plan on addressing with your parents:

  1. What Estate Planning Have They Done So Far?
  2. What Advance Care Directives Do They Have in Place?
    1. Do they have a living will?
    2. Do they have a power of attorney?
    3. Do they have a durable power of attorney for healthcare?
    4. Do they have a provision for anatomical gifts?
    5. Do they have a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate)?
      1. Where Are These Documents Located?
  3. What Health Insurance Do They Have?
    1. What are their preferences about nursing homes?
    2. Do they have enough retirement income to cover the cost?
  4. What Are Your Parents’ Wishes for a Funeral?

Though this list is far from exhaustive, it will give both you and your parents a good place to start. It is important that you get this information from them if you can, as it will help guide you in whatever decisions you may have to make for them in the future.

How Can I Approach These Potentially Difficult Conversations?

Caring for aging parents can be difficult, but the more information you have available in the form of an estate plan, the more confident you can feel in the decisions you will have to make once they are gone. Unfortunately, many of the difficult topics that may need to be covered in these conversations don’t naturally come up in casual conversation, which means that you may need to be the one to purposefully raise and address them.

If you are ready to begin having these conversations but are not sure how to initiate them, consider the following tips:

  1. Have Patience It is unlikely that you will be able to cover everything that needs to be discussed in a single conversation. Plan on having many conversations with your parents about their wishes, and anticipate that they may be eager to change the subject midway through the discussion.
  2. Include Other Family Members You will want to be transparent with other close members of the family. Let them know that you are planning to start having these conversations. That way, it won’t seem like you raised the subject out of the blue. Invite other members of your family to join in these conversations, so everyone will be on the same page throughout the process.
  3. Record These Conversations You don’t have to record them as they are happening, but it is a good idea to take notes during these conversations or immediately afterward. It is especially important, as your parents may change their minds about certain topics throughout the course of these conversations. These notes can also provide peace of mind, helping you to recall their statements with accuracy. However, it is important to note that unless your parents have documented these decisions in their wills, your personal notes will have little to no legal bearing compared to their will.
  4. Listen Though you may have feelings about the choices your parents may want to make, it is important to keep the focus on the key decisions they must make. These conversations will likely be difficult on your parents, and they may bring up strong emotions across the board. Rather than interject or voice your own opinions, wait for them to give theirs in full first. It is your place to listen to them and affirm their feelings, not argue about their choices or describe how the choices will affect you.
  5. Show Empathy Even though conversations about estate planning will very likely be hard for you, personally remember it is also difficult for your parents to talk about the end of their lives. Make a deliberate effort to show empathy during these conversations, and remember that thinking through these issues and making key decisions will always be emotionally and mentally difficult.
  6. Consider Using an Attorney It will be necessary to work with an estate-planning attorney during some stage of the planning process. Some families may also wish to consider hiring an attorney earlier on in the process, during the initial discussion phase. An attorney helps to mediate these initial conversations in a way that is more helpful, productive and focused on the factors that matter most. If you feel overwhelmed or unsure about what to do, consult an attorney with experience and expertise in estate planning.
  7. Focus on Values Since it is impossible to predict the future or have conversations that would cover every possible scenario, focus conversations more on your parents’ values than on specific situations. That way, you’ll be able to consider those values and allow them to guide you through whatever situations you encounter.
  8. Don’t Wait — The best time to begin these conversations are when your parents are young and healthy. It is important to have these conversations when your parents are capable of communicating their wishes, not after something has happened. Though it can feel really awkward to begin the conversation, remember that initiating it can be the hardest part. Once the subject is broached and thought through, subsequent conversations can flow much more easily.

Get Help Discussing Estate Planning From an Experienced New Jersey Attorney

Once you and your parents are ready to begin working on estate planning in earnest, contact an experienced and empathetic New Jersey estate planning attorney who can listen to you and help you plan for your future.

The Van Dyck Law Group has decades of experience in helping people of various ages, backgrounds, and financial situations. Contact us today to set up a no-risk consultation to begin planning your future by contacting us online or calling (609) 293-2621.

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