Millennials, have you thought about your parents’ preparedness for life changing events, such as a sudden illness, physical or mental disability, or, sadly, their passing? Your mom and dad are now entering their senior years when unexpected things can happen that can turn their world – and yours – upside down. Now is the time for all of you to be prepared by talking to your parents about estate planning.
What Is An Estate Plan?
An estate plan is a comprehensive series of legal documents that includes a Will, a Living Will, Health Care Proxy, Power of Attorney, Revocable Living Trust, and sometimes, a Pet Power of Attorney. Most of these are essential for your parents to have in place in case something unexpected happens. Here’s a quick breakdown of each:
- Will – Just about everyone is familiar with a Will. This document includes your parents’ last wishes like who would inherit their home, assets, and sentimental family items. A Will gives them the power to choose who gets what after they die.
- Living Will – Your mom and dad can provide their healthcare, medical treatment, and long-term care instructions should they become incapacitated and cannot speak for themselves.
- Health Care Proxy – This document, which is also sometimes called a Power of Attorney for Health Care, goes hand-in-hand with a Living Will. Your parents appoint a family member or someone they trust to make their healthcare decisions if they become incapacitated.
- Power of Attorney – This is a person appointed by your parents that would take care of their financial affairs and legal decisions in the event they cannot.
- Revocable Living Trust – This allows your parents to remove property and assets out of their ownership and transfer it into a Trust that is overseen by a Trustee. Upon the passing of your parents, the assets are bequeathed to the beneficiaries they named and avoids the probate process.
- Pet Power of Attorney – Do your parents have a pet? What would happen if they cannot care for it? Your parents can name someone to take custody and care of their pet should they pass or become incapacitated.
What Happens Without an Estate Plan?
Not having an Estate Plan in place can lead to family strife, heartache, and even litigation.
For instance, if your mom or dad pass away without a Will, your state’s intestacy law kicks in. The probate court takes control of your parents’ estate – home, assets, and everything they own. A judge would divide and distribute their assets regardless of their wishes. Imagine the friction this could cause among you, your siblings, and other family members.
Another example is a health crisis. Suppose your mom or dad suffers a medical emergency and cannot make their own treatment decisions. This is where the Living Will and Health Care Proxy come into play. The Living Will clearly spells out what treatment they would want or don’t want, while the Health Care Proxy would give the appointed person the legal right to carry out those wishes. In many cases, quick, critical decisions must be made. If you or someone else doesn’t have the legal authority to make them because your parents neglected to create these crucial documents, the court would appoint a guardian to make those choices.
Talk About Estate Planning With Your Parents
Now that you know what estate planning is all about, it’s time to sit down with your parents and talk about the importance of having these documents in place. Granted, it’s not an easy subject to broach. However, it is a conversation you need to have.
Call a family meeting. Have all your siblings together with your mom and dad. Don’t gang up on them – just explain the implications of not having an estate plan. Offer to help them create a plan so their wishes and choices will be honored.
Some tips to follow:
- Tell your mom and dad they are not alone in the estate plan creation process – you are there for them every step of the way
- Ease into the conversation
- Explain to your mom and dad you want their wishes carried out
- Ask about their healthcare and long-term care choices – do they want life-sustaining procedures?
- Who do they want to oversee their estate or make their decisions?
- What estate plans do they have now?
- Where are their legal documents stored?
- Get the whole family involved – everyone needs to be on the same page
Storing Estate Planning Documents for Security and Access
When your parents have their estate plan completed, it should be stored in a secure, accessible place, such as a digital vault. Many people store legal documents in a bank safe deposit box. However, if you live in another state or you need to access these documents on a holiday, weekend, or three o’clock in the morning, good luck.
A digital vault like Gentreo’s Digital Family Vault is a one-stop place to securely store these documents and is accessible 24/7. This can be easily and quickly accessed by your parents’ chosen family members.
Estate planning is all about being prepared for the expected and unexpected life changes that come along. As a millennial, you probably do not think much about illness and death, and certainly, you don’t want to think about these things when it comes to your parents. Sadly, these are a part of life and inevitable for us all. Having an estate plan in place for your mom and dad makes a difficult time a bit easier.