I’ve had numerous clients address their estate planning issues with me over the years. Some of them will even say they expect an inheritance when their parents pass away. But surprisingly, when I ask them the terms of their parents’ will or trust and if they are certain they will get an equitable share of the assets, most times they are unsure of one or both of those answers. Upon further questioning they may not even know the extent of their parent’s wealth.
As we get older and become more aware of end of life issues we worry about questioning our parents, as if asking questions will somehow hasten their demise or hurt their feelings. In some cases parents feed this attitude by their reticence to talk about end of life planning, whether it’s financial or physical in nature.
- There are many reasons for avoiding an “open discussion” policy. Maybe the parents have less than their children think they should have. If this is the case the parents may not want to look less successful in their children’s eyes.
- Conversely, maybe they have more and don’t want to divulge that either for fear of being asked for loans or to pay for expenses that they believe their children should shoulder.
- One of the children may be more successful than his or her siblings so the parents decide to leave more to the others but don’t want to deal with a possible confrontation with the more successful child.
Some of my clients plan their own retirement around their expected inheritance. As a result the children are sometimes blindsided when their parent’s death occurs. If the inheritance turns out to be less than they think or worse, non-existent, the money they will have available to retire will fall short and they will be forced to either curtail spending during their retirement years or work more years than planned to be able to retire.
An open dialogue with parents is beneficial to both sides. The discussions can center around generalities to start with and get more specific during multiple meetings. Finding out whether or not the parents have an estate plan and if so, who the attorney and accountant who work with their parents is crucial and will eliminate a lot of scrambling for information when a death occurs. Delving deeper into the actual assets of the estate, the plan for distributing the estate and medical intervention or do-not-resuscitate desires are topics that can be addressed later in the process. If the worst case scenario is that no plan exists, the children can tactfully suggest that the parents meet with an advisor and create an estate plan. Most times the parents will be relieved to have this stressful topic addressed and a plan put in motion.
We work with clients on a regular basis dealing with issues relating to tax and estate planning. If you think an experienced “unofficial mediator” can assist with resolving your own parents’ estate planning issues please contact Sherry Radmore at 714.569.1000.