Chances are you’ve had several difficult conversations with your parents over the years. If they’re over the age of 65 or 70, you’ll need to have one more about their estate planning. The first important thing to know is if they have one in place.
Whether you have one or both of your parents, it’s not a good idea to “wait for the right moment.” Even if they’re healthy and in great shape, there are no guarantees. That’s why it’s important to know what they expect to happen later in life, and long before anything happens. Reassure them that you are there to help and if they haven’t made a plan, suggest meeting with a local Fort Worth estate planning attorney like Wendy L. Hart.
If a plan is in place, you will want to know where to locate Mom or Dad’s important papers – their will, their health care directive etc. Many people have found themselves in the difficult position of finding important documents after someone dies unexpectedly.
More Than Just The Will
You will want to explain that your concern is you want to make sure if something unexpected happens, you are prepared to help. Many people believe that if they have a will in place, everything is handled. Unfortunately, that’s not necessarily the case. Ideally everyone needs a plan, not just people with a lot of assets to distribute. Estate planning encompasses a wide range of instructions and clear directives for the end of someone’s life. These plans make it easier on survivors to know your wishes.
Let’s start with the will: If they have one, ask how long ago was it written? If it’s more than five years ago, it’s probably time to review and see if it needs updating.
For instance, if the will is several years old, a lot of things may have happened. Children are no longer minors and there may be grandchildren. One spouse may have become widowed and remarried, bringing with them additional children. Or there may have even been a divorce, which would include more legal issues.
If your parent dies with a will that is too far it’s outdated, the court will have to intervene, making probate much more complicated and expensive than it should be. Probate is a court-supervised proceeding that authenticates the will and approves your named Executor so he or she can carry out their responsibilities.
Another important part of a comprehensive estate in Texas is an Advance Directive. This is a document that allows a person to outline their health care treatment preferences if they should become incapacitated. This will be your parents way of telling you what they want their treatment plan to be when they are unable to communicate their decisions for themselves. There are other tools you will wants your parents to discuss with their estate planning attorney like a power of attorney for example. All in all, a good estate plan plans for the future.
A part of estate planning is setting out one’s intentions about potential future events. Suggesting to your parent or parents to take inventory of their assets, belongings, including policies, digital records, and other information is also about understanding how prepared they are. If this seems too much, you can help them.
Planning ahead can also ensure that you or a sibling can step in during a medical emergency or should one parent become incapacitated and unable to take care of themselves.
You can begin by asking questions, such as:
• Where are your important documents?
• How do we get access to your digital assets and records?
• Who do you want to designate as your primary caregiver?
• What are your medical care preferences?
• Who should make important medical decisions on your behalf?
• Do you have any valuable items that you want to be handled in a particular manner?
• How will we pay for your healthcare expenses?
• How should we handle your property when you die? Should someone in the family inherit it, or should we sell it?
You could also include other family members in the conversation, such as your siblings, and others who are close to your parents such as grandchildren, nieces, and nephews.
The Estate Plan
The answers to these questions will guide you in helping your parents understand the need for an estate plan.
In addition to a current will, creating a trust may want to be considered. Trusts can be a way to avoid probate, keep your estate private, and reduce estate taxes.
Because you or one of your relatives may be named executor and will be handling these affairs when someone passes away, it’s also important to have lists of:
• Name and contact information for their estate attorney
• Bank account information for all accounts
• Other financial accounts, such as brokerage and retirement accounts
• Legal information, which can include their wills, all powers of attorney, and all trust information
• Information and details for any life insurance policies, Social Security claims, and pensions
• Asset titles, including vehicles, homes, and any other assets
• Advanced healthcare directives, and other medical information
• Birth certificates and Social Security cards
• Credit card information, including statements, cards, and contact information
• Any other outstanding debts, recurrent payments, and expenses, such as utility bills, subscriptions, etc., and if they are auto-debit to a credit or debit card
• Information on all digital accounts that would be required to close online. This can include social media, online accounts for banking, and anything else that’s handled completely online (i.e., an iTunes library.)
Approach the subject carefully and openly. Do not look as if you are attempting to gain favor or trying to influence decisions about any inheritance.
Fort Worth Estate Planning Attorney Wendy L. Hart
Wendy L. Hart is both an experienced family law attorney as well as an estate-planning attorney. She understands what’s involved when families need to plan for the future and can help you or your parents craft a plan to make sure instructions are carried out properly.
We are happy to help. Visit our Mansfield office, use our online contact form, or call us at (817) 842-2336.