‘Tis the Season to Start Talking
By Margaret Menicucci, Attorney & Counselor
My father passed away in 2010, after a long and meaningful life. Visits to my parents’ home were periodic because I live in a different state. In the last few years of his life, each time I visited, he would make me sit in his study and review his assets, his filing system, his meticulous records, and his plan for supporting my mother so she could continue to live at home after he passed. When he died, he left plenty of resources to support my mother comfortably. He also left a clear and effective will, beneficiary designations on his accounts, and guideposts in every file in his study that would help me help my mother manage those assets that are critical to her support and comfort. He taught me this powerful lesson about estate planning: an excellent estate plan requires good documents and records and meaningful communication of your goals and expectations with your loved ones.
In 2016, Fidelity Investments conducted a study focusing on the extent to which parents and their adult children communicate in depth about a range of financial and retirement topics. In the study group, 69% of the surveyed parents of adult children said they have had detailed conversations about their estate plans, but 86% of the surveyed parents said they had not had in-depth (or sometimes any) conversation with their children about long-term care and eldercare. The issues around eldercare and long-term care are especially sensitive and, at times, complex.
‘Tis the season to start talking.
Family visits in the next few weeks are prime time for discussions about parents’ long-term care and their legacy – how they want to pass their assets to family and their community. Certainly, an estate plan provides the critical tools for directing the care of aging parents and for distributing wealth when they die. A strong estate plan will include a Will or revocable living trust along with disability planning documents such as financial and medical powers of attorney and a health care directive. Our role, as your attorneys and counselors, is to guide you and your family in creating a personalized estate plan that works well. Communication among family members, however, provides that extra level of certainty that the estate plan will be implemented correctly and with respect for personal goals.
It may be too awkward to transition a conversation from football stats to medical powers of attorney. You will have more success with intentionally and honestly asking to set aside time for a discussion (not unlike my father bringing me into the study to review records). A request for time signals the importance of these conversations – this communication is about working together as a family to care for each other.
If adult children are starting the conversation, begin with high-level questions regarding goals and expectations and the ways you can help (not what is in it for you). You are there to learn and understand. Some starters could be:
– “Mom, you have worked so hard to maintain the family ranch, what vision do you have for its future?”
– “Dad, if there comes a time when it is difficult for you to manage your investments and health care, what kind of assistance would you want us, as your children, to provide?”
This August 2017 article in MarketWatch, an online news service published by Dow Jones & Co., provides more instruction about how to continue these conversations.
We have had clients come to Braun & Gresham for estate planning after they have handled the distribution of a parent’s estate. Those clients often tell us that the planning done by their parents, combined with their parents’ thoughtful communication of their wishes, was a priceless gift. It eased their minds, minimized sibling conflict, and helped expedite the probate process.
This season, a simple and priceless gift that you can give to your family is taking the time to talk about a parent’s estate plan (or need for one) and their expectations about retirement and long-term care.
If you have any questions or want to learn more about the estate planning process before or after the holiday season, please call Margaret at (512) 894-5426.