Throughout my twenty years as an estate planning attorney, I have experienced the effects of the above question. Too often, the problem has been that estate planning has not been discussed. I always advise my clients to let their family members know that they have done estate planning and where the documents are located. I encourage more discussion; but, at a minimum, family members must know that planning has been done.
Estate planning is a very personal and private matter. As a result, many children and grandchildren are not aware of estate issues or the personal wishes of their parents and grandparents until it is too late to plan. Parents and grandparents are often reluctant to discuss such issues.
Perhaps the best way to start the discussion with a parent is to ask questions such as, “Have you done any estate planning?” or “Are there any estate decisions that I need to be aware of?” Another alternative would be to ask your parents for advice on your own estate plan. This may lead to a discussion of their own plans. The questions do not have to initially focus on financial issues or on what individual beneficiaries will receive. Instead, the questions should focus on understanding the overall wishes of a parent and how you can help.
A parent may not want to discuss issues relating to death; however, by waiting, the discussion may never occur. They could die without you knowing whether they have estate planning documents, where they are located, wishes pertaining to their illness, and final services. You should also remember that a discussion of your parents’ estate planning needs may affect your own estate planning, and you may need to consider revising your own strategies.
Conversely, if you are the parents, you may be uncomfortable talking about your own death. Or you may feel that your children would be uncomfortable speaking of your death. But by taking the time now to plan your estate, and to make your wishes known to your loved ones, you may experience a sense of security. You will have peace of mind knowing you’ll be able to financially provide for your loved ones after you’re gone, and you can rest at ease that you were able to discuss your wishes with those who may need to know, but are reluctant to ask.