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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Tips for discussing estate planning with ageing parents

One of the questions I'm asked most often is how to have a conversation with your ageing parents about capacity issues and legal planning. Nobody wants to upset their parents by introducing a topic that often frightens or intimidates them. However, it's essential that ageing parents prepare Wills, Enduring Powers of Attorney and Personal Directives and that they tell their children who has been appointed under those documents.

One of the most important things to remember when beginning the conversation about planning is that the children's role is that of listener. Make it clear that the point of the meeting is to give the parents a chance to talk and the kids a chance to listen. If your parents refuse to make formal planning documents, remind them that the main reason Wills and other documents are made is to prevent disputes after the parents are gone. Making Wills is actually an unselfish way of preserving family harmony. This is a good motivator for reluctant parents!

The discussion should include everyone who is directly affected by the documents. Typically this means all of the children. Sometimes when only one of the children is involved in the parents' planning, the other children become suspicious of that child influencing the parents to make certain plans. Having open communication may prevent that.

For the discussion itself, choose a time and place that suits the parents and allows them to be at their best. If the first signs of memory loss are evident, choose a time when the parents are rested, comfortable and feeling sharp. For some people, this means a certain time of day or a particular place. Use common sense, such as not having a family discussion on a day when a parent has just endured an invasive medical procedure.

If your parents know a lawyer that they trust and want to work with, do not force them to go see someone of your choosing. This will upset them as well as other people in your family and may even lead to the validity of the Will being questioned later.

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