This week, as we all gather with friends and family to take stock and give thanks for all that we have, it makes sense to take a few of those moments to consider and discuss estate planning with loved ones. It is estimated about half (56%) of American parents have a will or living trust document. Yet, the same survey tells us that in more than half of the families where parents have estate planning documents in place, adult children don’t know where their parent’s estate planning documents are, or what is in them. Even worse, too often adult children learn too late that their parents never put in place a plan for a time when age or disability limit the parent’s ability to care for themselves. As a result, in far too many cases families loose much of their intergenerational wealth to the state or wind up incurring expenses and delays they could have easily avoided.
For this reason, many advisors, myself included, suggest using the thanksgiving and other end of the year holiday gatherings to discuss wishes for elder care and estate planning. Though it isn’t always the most lighthearted conversation, the family is already gathered and opportunities for reflection and frank cooperative discussion abound. A stroll around the block with mom after the turkey is in the oven, commercial breaks during the Cowboy’s game, or over a cup of coffee with that one-to-many piece of pumpkin are all opportunities to broach the topic. Because we often have the chance to gather on multiple occasions over the holidays, I often suggest using the Thanksgiving holiday to mention the importance of making sure mom and dad have a plan in place, instead of going ‘full turkey’ into an in-depth conversation about wills, trusts, fiduciary obligations, and healthcare proxies. Then, follow up with your parents about their plan before the end of the year.
Depending on your parent’s goals and objectives, it may make sense to schedule a dedicated family meeting separate from holiday festivities to discuss estate planning specifically or to let everyone know that some of the conversation at the next family gathering will involve family estate planning. While everyone may not always be happy with whatever decision the older generation makes about their care or assets, at least everyone will be on the same page. In my experience, this alone often helps to reduce litigation after a parent passes.
While you are at it, Thanksgiving may also be a perfect time to discuss YOUR estate plan with family or close friends who you would like to name as a guardian for your children or executor for your will. Shockingly, it is estimated that nearly one third of parents do not have even a simple will that would nominate a caretaker or guardian for their children in the event they were to pass. So, while you are finding a quiet moment to talk to your parents about their estate plan, find some time to discuss your own plans with those you would rely upon in the event of your incapacity or passing.
Matthew Fabisch is the Managing Attorney of Fabisch Law, L.L.C. and assists elderly clients and their children with a full range of elder law services including estate planning, wills, trusts, probate, business successions, Medicaid planning, disability planning, and tax planning. Attorney Fabisch also practices in the areas of IRS Tax Controversy, Bankruptcy, and Litigation matters.