Benjamin Franklin is credited with saying, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Despite the certainty of death, many put off estate planning. Even more put off having those awkward family conversations and discussing their estate plans with their family.
All too often, clients learn about their deceased parent’s relationship with another person only after receiving a copy of that parent’s will. Others find themselves embroiled in probate litigation trying to protect their deceased parents’ assets and business interests from step-parents or other family members. Unfortunately, deceased relatives don’t talk and can’t answer any questions.
While it is difficult to discuss death and dying, it is imperative that you have that difficult discussion to understand what your family members have planned at the time of their death. It’s not “if they die,” but “when they die.”
Here are some questions that may be helpful for children to start a discussion with their parents:
• Have you spoken with an attorney about an estate plan?
• Have you prepared any papers to document your wishes in the event of an illness or disability?
• What can I do to help you in the event of an illness or disability?
• Similarly, it is important for parents to make their wishes known to their children. The following are helpful conversations starters for parents to discuss their estate plans with their children:
• We recently met with an attorney and would like to tell you about our estate plan?
• Can we share with you our plans for the future?
• We’ve started to make plans in the event one of us becomes ill or disabled. We want to make sure you know where our important documents are in the event of an emergency.
Once a conversation is started, families should try to resolve the following issues:
• Decision-makers: Who will hold financial and medical powers of attorney, act as the personal representative, and/or act as the trustee of any trust?
• Finances: How should finances be handled and where can financial information be located?
• Medical Wishes: How do you feel about in-home care, long or short-term care facilities, life-sustaining treatments, and organ donation?
• Children: Who is to be your children’s guardian if they are minors at the time of your death? What are important religious or educational values you want imparted to your children?
• Distributions: How are assets to be distributed and are there any priorities for future use of any money that may be inherited?
• Information: Where are important papers, passwords for accounts, and safe deposit boxes located? Are there any attorneys, financial advisors, and accountants that can provide additional helpful information if needed?
Open communication helps avoid confusion and ensures everyone is prepared for the future. In particular, a candid conversation can set expectations and defray future conflict regarding money and the distribution of family heirlooms and memorabilia.
Everyone has an estate plan, whether you’ve chosen yours or you allow the government’s plans to govern. Ensure your family is protected and armed with the tools and information needed to handle your estate or for you to handle your parent’s estate.
Allison L. Kierman is the managing partner of Kierman Law PLC. Allison provides wills, trusts, estate planning, and probate litigation needs throughout Arizona. For more information, visit www.kiermanlaw.com.