Getting a family together to discuss issues related to aging parents can be challenging. Sometimes geography is a hurdle. Grown children are scattered around the country, even around the world. Fortunately, new technologies like Zoom can alleviate that stumbling block. More often, we find the challenge is emotional: children as well as their parents can be hesitant to discuss issues that center around parents’ eventual deaths.
Still, as uncomfortable as it might be, it is critical to address end-of-life issues while the parents are around and capable of expressing their intentions and control things like the distribution of their assets. As such, we make it a point to conclude financial planning sessions with clients with the relevant questions. Is your will up to date? Do you have an estate plan? Is there a healthcare directive? Has power of attorney been assigned, perhaps to one of your children, in case the parents are unable to make decisions for themselves? Who do they trust to oversee the execution of their wills and the distribution of their assets? Is there long-term care insurance in place to protect your assets through years when you might need long-term care in a facility or at home? When we identify planning gaps we can address them; for example, if estate planning has not been done, we can get their attorneys involved, or recommend an attorney. And beyond strictly financial matters, do the adult children know things like where passwords can be found, where the will is located, and how to access the contents of the safe if there is one?
It can be particularly difficult to discuss how the parents’ assets will be distributed. But it is important for parents to lay those cards on the table, to inform the children. You don’t want to leave the children with that burden, not only to determine how financial assets should be distributed, but items such as a particular heirloom and to whom it should go. Bringing these issues to light, and thoroughly examining, documenting, and sharing the decisions with the family will likely prevent family clashes, which often turn into legal challenges, after the parents have passed away.
Use a trusted advisor as facilitator
It is often easier for families to discuss these issues with the help of an outside facilitator as opposed to a parent or child having to force the conversation. It can be especially uncomfortable for a child who wants to know more about their parents’ finances. As a trusted advisor, we work closely with our clients to know not only their comprehensive financial picture, but their goals and aspirations—and their family dynamics. Our clients appreciate that kind of involvement; a strong relationship allows us to provide the advice and counsel best suited to their situation and circumstances.
When the discussions are completed, the cards have been laid on the table, we provide a summary letter confirming what needs to be done in terms of additional documents, like an updated will, an estate plan, or assignment of power of attorney. When those initiatives are completed, we ask the client to provide us with copies of the resulting documents, so we have them on file as a backup should they be misplaced.
Not just for the elderly
Planning is not only for the elderly. Parents with grown children should update their planning documents as their intentions are likely to change over time. Divorce, welcoming a new child into the world, selling a business, and other life changing events require updates to such documents as wills and estate plans. Now that the children are grown and out of the house, who is best to assign power of attorney? In the end, as parents, you want to your intentions to be known and carried out. You don’t want to catch your children off guard should something happen to you.
HBKS financial advisors are here to help. We have a variety of planning tools to help parents and their children address the wide range of planning opportunities. We welcome the opportunity to discuss these issues with you confidentially, as well as to plan and facilitate family meetings. For more information or to talk with an HBKS wealth advisor, call us at (716) 672-7800 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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