It’s Time to Talk Estate Planning with Your Parents
We’re all familiar with Millennials’ stereotype as self-absorbed, spoiled children who can’t seem to get their lives in order. But the truth is, Millennials have matured into responsible adults and productive citizens, with many approaching their (gasp!) forties. Consequently, their Baby Boomer parents are aging, too, requiring their Millennial children to engage them in a challenging conversation on a sensitive topic: estate planning.
What’s Involved in Estate Planning?
Are you a millennial? Talk to your parents about estate planning. If the thought of talking to your parents about estate planning sounds about as much fun as going to the dentist for a root canal procedure, let us put your mind at ease. First, understand that estate planning encompasses much more than just wills and inheritance, though we know why that’s the first thing that comes to mind for most people. Yet an estate plan can also designate the person assigned to make healthcare decisions, should your parent(s) become incapacitated and no longer capable of making these decisions themselves. With a detailed estate plan, there is no guesswork: if an emergency occurs with your parent(s), you and your siblings can provide emotional support and assist with their care, rather than deal with the stress of having to make life-or-death choices. What happens in an emergency when no estate plan exists? You, as the child, could face agonizing uncertainty about your parents’ desires, raising the possibility of the courts stepping in and deciding for you (and them). Isn’t it better to broach the topic while your viable, healthy parents can tell you precisely what they want via an estate plan?
Necessary Documents and Information for Estate Planning
While wills are essential for settling an estate after a loved one dies, your parents (and you) should get the following paperwork in order while alive and healthy:
- Power of Attorney – names a trusted individual to make legal decisions for your parent(s) if they cannot express their wishes themselves.
- Health Care Directive – names a trusted individual to make healthcare treatment decisions for your parent(s) if they cannot give those directives themselves.
- Living Will – indicates whether your parent(s) should be kept alive by artificial means if they cannot verbalize their wishes.
- Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) Order – directs healthcare providers not to revive your parent(s) should their heartbeat and respiration cease. Their physician prepares this document following a consultation in which they discuss the matter.
- A Medical Order Life-Sustaining Treatment (MOLST) – specifies to healthcare providers the kinds of life-sustaining treatments they should or should not administer if your parent(s) cannot tell them. A few examples include, “I do not want to be intubated,” or “I do not want a blood transfusion.” They can list multiple life-sustaining treatments on their MOLST, so be sure to discuss all possibilities.
Power of Attorney, Health Care Directive, and a Living Will can ease the burden of a loved one’s illness by designating a person to handle necessary transactions like paying bills, in addition to making medical decisions. We cannot emphasize enough how crucial it is to put this paperwork in place before there’s an issue – particularly if dementia or Alzheimer’s are part of the family medical history.
Once the paperwork is signed and completed, your next step is to ensure that you know where your parents keep their estate plan. It’s a good idea to ask them to document passwords to vital accounts on one primary document and set up bills on autopay, especially if they entrust that information to just one person. Research some digital options for secure data storing, where you can save data like passwords, the process for household bill paying, and financial and legal documentation.
How To Initiate a Conversation About The Sensitive Topic of Estate Planning
Now that you have a general understanding of everything involved in estate planning, it’s time to talk to your parents about it. Keep in mind, as challenging as it is to discuss this topic with a loved one, it pales in comparison to a gut-wrenching scenario of a dire medical emergency with one of your parents, with no clear-cut directive as to how to proceed. Assure your parents that estate planning will alleviate your anxiety and free you up to offer your emotional support in a time of crisis. Framing the subject in this manner will persuade your parents to engage on the issue and take care of the necessary paperwork.
One tactic you might take is to ask them for their advice as a prelude to the conversation. You could say, for example, “Now that Jack and I are married, we want to create our estate plans. How did you two decide who to designate as the power of attorney and health care proxy?” If they respond that they do not have an estate plan, you’ll know where to begin.
Or, you can take the direct approach. Suppose your family has a history of dementia. You could express your concerns about it and your desire to prepare all the legal documents now before anything happens. That way, you can focus on getting them the best care possible instead of agonizing over the legal and financial paperwork. Stress that an estate plan puts them in control because they get to define their wishes and have them upheld, versus you having to guess – or, in a worst-case scenario, the government, via the courts, appointing a stranger to make these vital decisions on their behalf.
My Parents Have Agreed to An Estate Plan: Now What?
Estate planning is a legal specialization. As such, it demands complex skills only an estate planning attorney can offer. That’s why you must hire an attorney who focuses on estate planning, not one who occasionally writes a will for a client. As we mentioned above, a comprehensive estate plan includes a Power of Attorney, Health Care Directive, Living Will, DNR Order, and a MOLST.