Should Children Urge Parents to Do Their Estate Plan This Holiday?






This is an updated version of last year’s pre-holiday post.

If parents do not have an estate plan should their children ask them to get it done?

Many parents never find time to set things in order.  But children should tread softly here. 

An estate plan where assets are in a living trust and probate is avoided can be a real benefit to the children. If an encouraging word leads to that result, it should be a good thing. 

But in families where finances are not discussed, talking about estate planning can feel even more taboo.  It brings up both the subject of parents’ finances and anticipating the parents’ demise.  Such topics during Thanksgiving dinner can give a bitter after-taste to the pumpkin pie. 

The discussion might be more pleasant if you let those concerned know in advance that you would like to take a few minutes in the evening to discuss estate planning.

Children who want to help their parents do estate planning should avoid other pitfalls. Pressuring a parent to get a bigger share of the pot or to disinherit a sibling are obvious examples of undue influence.  Not so obvious, but also potential evidence is simply driving a parent to an estate planning appointment. 

Paying for parents’ estate planning services is also risky. Well-meaning children who are only trying to benefit everyone, may have their good will turned against them if the payment is used as evidence of undue influence. Children who expect to receive a disproportionately larger share than other siblings should have nothing to do with the document drafting process.

Finally, children should never sit in on their parents’ meeting with the attorney. Since undue influence could result in disinheritance, these are not trivial concerns.

It is best if all children jointly encourage parents’ estate planning.  Alternatively, keeping all children in the loop should help. Let each other know what communications you have had with your parents.

Need more advice on family communication? I found this article helpful.

Despite the risks, communication among families about estate planning is a healthy process, something worth finding time for over the Thanksgiving weekend.  Just not during dinner.

Photo: Elizabeth Billings 2010-2011 (c)

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