It can be frustrating to have a parent who’s getting well into their senior years but doesn’t want to think about estate planning – even a will. No one wants to think about death, and the older someone gets, the more frightening it can be.
Convincing an elderly parent to develop an estate plan while they’re still cognizant enough to be legally “of sound mind” can be challenging. You don’t want to cross a line that would lead others to consider your efforts “undue influence.” So what can you do – and what is off limits?
How much you have to do yourself will depend on how opposed your parent is to setting up an estate plan. Obviously, if they refuse to do it, you can’t make them. It may be helpful to point out that they’re just going to make things more difficult for their loved ones if they don’t.
What can – and can’t – you do?
If they agree they need to have an estate plan but just need some logistical help, you may need to recommend an attorney and even make the initial appointment and drive them there. You may need to help them find documents, titles and other information they need to be sure all their assets are included.
You should not, however, be part of their discussions with their attorney – at least regarding inheritances. That’s one reason having sound legal guidance is key. This helps ensure that your parent’s decisions are their own and that you’re not doing anything that would create a legitimate challenge after they’re gone.
Open communication can help
If you have siblings or other close family members who will be beneficiaries – or think they should be – it’s typically best to let them know what role you’re playing in helping your parent. The more up-front you are, the less likely it is that they’ll feel like you’ve exerted undue influence behind their backs.
It may be a good idea for your parent to talk with all of you together before or as they work on their estate plan. This can help everyone feel included – and remove any doubts or later accusations that your parent didn’t have the cognitive abilities to set up an estate plan.
With experienced legal guidance, you can feel secure that you won’t be allowed to cross a line – even unintentionally. Then you and your family can have peace of mind that your parent’s wishes are properly codified.