Talking Turkey: 7 Tips for Discussing Your Elderly Parents’ Estate Plan During the Holidays

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Sometimes special occasions like Thanksgiving offer great opportunities to have heart-to-heart conversations with the people we care about.

Glenn R. Metecun, CELA, certified as an Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation offers some talking points on how one can engage in a thoughtful and crucial conversation with his or her elderly parents on estate planning:

Have the talk

Talking about your parents’ estate plan with them is not easy, but it is critical if you are to be able to carry out their wishes if they become incapacitated or after they are gone. And a great time to talk is when you are sitting around the house during the holidays.

Decide how to start the conversation

As opposed to opening a conversation by saying “Let’s talk about end-of-life planning,” try using stories or questions. For example, “Do you remember when grandma died and she didn’t have a Will? Have you started your planning yet?” Or: “John and I just met with an estate planning lawyer about our plan, have you done any planning yet?” Or even: “Mom, I need your help. Someday I might need to make financial or medical decisions for you, and I want to make sure I understand what you want.”

Be Patient 

This will be an ongoing conversation, so start slow and commit to following up on loose ends if you don’t cover all the topics at once (medical, financial, funeral, etc.)

Be Transparent With Other Family Members 

Try to include other family members (for example, all children) in the conversation so it seems less controlling.

Listen and Empathize

Don’t tell your parents what they should think or feel or do, just try to understand their wishes. This is a difficult conversation. No one looks forward to talking about death or dying, or about becoming incapacitated. Put yourself in their place and try to understand and share their feelings.

Research an attorney

Choose an attorney who focuses on estate planning and elder law. He or she can help facilitate the conversation and make sure all important topics are covered.

Don’t wait. 

Timing is critical, so have the conversation while your parents are still healthy. You can’t make a legal plan after a parent or parents no longer have capacity—at that time it’s too late.

Glenn R. Matecun is a Michigan estate planning and elder law attorney, helping families plan for life, resolve conflict, deal with loss, protect assets and preserve a lasting legacy. He has been an attorney for over 30 years and practices throughout the state of Michigan.