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An essential topic of conversation

Talking About Estate Planning with your Parents

Have your Mum & Dad made their estate plan yet? Should you be concerned?

A Tale of Two Fathers

My dad turned 79 this week. One Saturday afternoon last month, he and one of my sons sent me this joyful (hair-raising!) selfie from the top of Y Garn, a mountain in Snowdonia they’d just climbed together. Dad gets cabin-fever if he’s stuck in the house for more than a couple of hours in the daytime, so when he doesn't have us to go hiking with, he can be found most weekdays helping out on his friend’s farm, rounding up sheep, fixing machinery, or intently following proceedings at the local livestock market.

I know I’m a very lucky daughter, because my husband’s experience couldn’t be more different. He’s looked on helplessly as his Dad has slowly succumbed to the inexorable progress of dementia. It started in his Dad’s seventies with getting hopelessly lost in car parks, unable for the life of him to remember where he’d left the car. Some ten years on, he’s in a specialist care home for people with dementia, bewildered, often angry, rarely able to recognise his family. My husband and his brother live – but don't exactly cope - with overwhelming guilt and anxiety, which has badly damaged their relationship with each other.

If you're in the active, working years of your life story, you may feel you’re too young to think about your own estate plan. However, this tale of two fathers illustrates that, whether you like it or not, you do need to care about your parents’ estate plan.

Have they Made an Adequate Estate Plan? Probably Not.

Estate planning is an important process that will help protect your parents, their assets and you.  It's not just about money and inheritance; issues about healthcare and personal welfare will become ever more relevant as your parents get older. On average, we can expect our parents to live into their mid-eighties, but we can also expect their health to start letting them down from their mid-seventies onwards.  

Chances are, your parents won’t have done enough, or anything, about their estate plan, because it’s one of the most overlooked aspects of financial management. An estimated 60% of British adults don't have an estate plan. So, the job of encouraging your parents to make sensible estate planning choices may fall to you.

Man-Up and Talk About It.

This is an odd confession for an estate planning nerd like me, but it was actually my Dad who initiated the conversation with me, and my first reaction was “NOOOOOO!”. I don't want my Dad’s money; I want him to be immortal! So, I irrationally avoided the subject of his estate plan for a long time.  

Death and infirmity were similarly taboo subjects in my husband’s family. A couple of last-minute, sadly inadequate estate planning choices were made at my mother-in-law’s behest not long before she died, but parents and sons never sat down as a family and talked things through properly. This has resulted in years of misunderstanding and recrimination that have driven a wedge between the two brothers.

That experience, coupled with the examples of inadequate estate planning and their consequences that I see in my working life, led me to realise I had to overcome my resistance to talking about my Dad’s estate plan.

Of course, I have two key advantages: first, my Dad really wanted to address this issue, and second, I obviously know an awful lot about the subject. So, the question is, how to address this daunting issue from a standing start.

Knowledge is Power

Legal stuff can be intimidating at first sight, but a little time spent educating yourself pays dividends. Browsing the other articles and case studies in this blog will help a great deal, because its whole purpose is to make practical knowledge freely available, so that anyone can talk about estate planning with confidence.

The greatest issue of concern for the majority of people of our parents’ generation is the cost of care. Your parents probably worry that your inheritance, everything they’ve worked for all their lives, risks being diverted to the council to pay care home fees. It’s a huge and scary issue for many, but there are sensible choices your parents can make to cut this problem down to size, as summarised in my earlier article about Planning for the Cost of Care.

The biggest favour your parents can do for you is make their Lasting Powers of Attorney. If they are incapacitated in later life, and haven’t made their Powers of Attorney in advance, it’s you who’ll suffer. You’ll be saddled with an expensive and stressful trip to the Court of Protection for permission to look after their financial affairs. You’ll be relegated to the second division in decisions about how your parents should be cared for, while the final say rests with doctors and social workers.

There’s a lot of urban mythology surrounding Powers of Attorney, which sometimes puts parents off, so it really helps to get clued up on the two kinds of Power of Attorney, for Health & Welfare and for Property & Financial Affairs, so you can reassure both them and yourself.

Start the Conversation, And Keep it Going

Health and money can be sensitive subjects, depending on your parents and your relationship with them. Be confident and tactful. Broach the subject in a factual and non-confrontational way with your parents and your siblings. Some of the case studies elsewhere in the blog may be useful conversation starters.

If you encounter resistance, just back off for a while, and come back to the conversation at a later date. Gentle persistence will win out in the end. The goal is for your parents to be clear with the whole family about their choices for their medical and financial future.

If your parents move on to the next step of having a consultation with us about their estate plan, they will always receive complimentary written advice as part of the service, which can be discussed among the family as a whole before any decisions are made. Once their estate plan is in place, you, your parents and your siblings can heave a sigh of relief and forget all about it until the time comes to put it into action.

"I am a retired divorcee with a complicated family situation. Allowing my estate to be distributed in line with to the intestacy rules when I am gone would not have been a fair reflection of my wishes, so I knew it was vital that I make a will. I wanted to ensure that particular members of my family were provided for. I also have a child who is self-employed, and I was worried about providing for her in case her business failed and her inheritance was seized by the Insolvency Service. Will Written have created an estate plan for me that places my assets into a trust when I am gone, so that the trustees can manage my assets and keep them in the family."

John M

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