How to Talk to Aging Parents About Estate Planning

By Stephen J. Silverberg
New York Elder Law Attorney

Many people don’t see the importance of estate planning until they have been forced to deal with the adverse effects of not being prepared for death or disability. Once they experience this, they understand the value of an estate plan, both in distributing assets and preparing for end-of-life decisions.

Some parents will readily discuss disability and estate planning with their adult children. Some view it as a healthy way to share the work and bring on a younger mind to help navigate the complexities of estate planning.

Sadly, not all aging parents are open to having these discussions. Some are insecure about their lack of knowledge, and fear being embarrassed. Sometimes, parents just don’t want to come to terms with their mortality. If a parent delays or makes no estate plan, the children will likely have stress and conflict—and they usually have to clean up the mess that results.

Probate is a tiresome, costly and slow-moving headache. There are delays and hard feelings. Probate can also lead to the wrong people inheriting wealth and family treasures. Not sure if your parents have a proper estate plan?

Try to head it off at the pass. Ask, “Hey Mom, do you and Dad have a will? What about a power of attorney or healthcare proxy?”

If you know this will not fly and need a subtler approach, pose your question as asking for advice. Tell them you’re trying to get your personal affairs in order and need their help. Sometimes people are more comfortable talking about your situation than their own.

If they won’t talk to you about it, ask a sibling or a family friend.

There’s another option:  offer to pay for their estate plan. Tell them that you’ve learned what issues can result from settling an estate if it’s not planned in advance, and that you’re willing to pay for their estate to be properly prepared. It’s probably not your first choice for spending money but you may save yourself from higher costs.

About the Author
Stephen J. Silverberg is nationally recognized as a leader in the areas of estate planning, estate administration, asset preservation planning, and elder law. He is a past president of the prestigious National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA), and a founding member and past president of the New York State chapter of NAELA.