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Tips for Talking To Your Parents About Estate Planning in the Age of COVID-19

Posted by Judy Nakashima Shoji | Mar 12, 2021 | 0 Comments

The only guarantee we have in life is that we're all going to die someday. If we're lucky enough, we'll do this when we're old, slipping peacefully away in our sleep. But, inevitably, it will happen to each of us regardless of age or health. Unfortunately, too many people pass away without addressing their estate planning and die without leaving a will. Dying without a will, referred to as intestate, is just one of the issues that can come from not addressing your estate planning while you're alive. 

It's easy to push thoughts about your mortality or your loved ones' to the back of your mind. Unfortunately, the ongoing pandemic has shown all of us just how unpredictable life can be. That means it's more important than ever to plan ahead, which includes doing your estate planning. 

Dying without a will that can speak for you when you no longer are able can cause hardship and stress for family and friends at an already difficult time.  This lack of advance planning can also cause enormous emotional and financial strain on those left to pick up the pieces.

Anticipating the aging and death of a parent is not an easy process, so many people put it off and avoid discussing estate planning with their parents altogether. The problem with sticking your head in the sand is that when illness or death does occur, many adult children find themselves scrambling to determine which documents or what arrangements their parents had made, whether they were sufficient, and if they accurately reflect what Mom or Dad's wishes may have been.

Here are a few tips for how you can avoid this from happening.

1. Discuss what estate planning they have completed so far and whether it is up to date.

Do your parents have a will? Did they execute a power of attorney or a health care directive? Accounts with named beneficiaries or pay-on-death or transfer-on-death accounts? Joint accounts with rights of survivorship? Have they prepared for their funeral in a cremation directive? 

It's important to know what your parents have done so that you'll understand what will happen if they become seriously ill or what will happen to their assets after they die.

You'll also want to know who your parents have chosen as their agent to step in and make decisions for them when they're no longer able to, and who they've chosen as the executor of their estate upon their death.

2. Explain to your parents why advanced planning for incapacity is s important.

End-of-life planning isn't just about estate planning. Advance care planning means planning for the possibility that your parents might become seriously ill, physically incapacitated, or mentally unsound. Each of these scenarios can result in them being unable to make decisions for themselves.

It's, therefore, crucial to talk to your parents while they're still healthy about what their wishes would be if these things happen because they'll be unable to sign these documents once they're ill. If you wait to have this conversation, it may be too late. 

Don't wait until they're hospitalized or you see the obvious signs of memory loss, dementia, or Alzheimer's. Once any of this occurs, your parents may not meet the legal standard to sign these documents. 

It's important to note that planning for these eventualities involves more than just discussing what your parents would want. It also means having a set of legal directives, called known as incapacity protection documents. These documents allow someone they've chosen to step in and make their health care and financial decisions for them when they can't.

Without the incapacity protection documents, doctors may be unable to speak with you about your parents' condition. Doctors can refuse to allow you to step in or you may find yourself in a situation where you're unable to access your parents' accounts, preventing you from taking care of them financially with their own funds. That can put further strain on you and your family at an already trying time.

3. Don't procrastinate and have a conversation about estate planning when your parents are still healthy.

Have the talk now. Don't wait until your parents are no longer capable of telling you what they want. No one likes to talk about death and dying, and it can be especially difficult for adult children such as yourself to contemplate your parents' aging and death.

The loss of a parent is never easy, and the grief process can be profound and ongoing. That emotional difficulty is only compounded, though, if one or more of your parents experience physical or mental incapacity. Or your parents die without you knowing their wishes, having the necessary legal documents in place, or you knowing where you can find the documents they have when you need them. 

If you're unsure how to begin the process, we can help you start the conversation with your parents about their estate planning by bridging the gap between you. We can do this by suggesting topics for discussion you may not have thought of before.

Give us a call today. We're here to listen and help. 

About the Author

Judy Nakashima Shoji

Judy prides herself on being approachable, down to earth and willing to answer any questions hr clients may have. She is a Seattle native. She attended the University of Washington, Tokyo University and Seattle University School of Law. She was a legal intern in the Civil Division of the Seattle City Attorney's Office and at Yasuda Fire and Marine Insurance Company located in Shinjuku, Japan. Judy advises clients in all aspects of estate planning, probate and adoptions. She also serves as a Title 11 court appointed investigator in guardianship cases for King County Superior Court. She cannot think of any areas in which she would rather practice. She invests in learning about her client's whole story which creates a friendly environment in which she can provide more effective assistance. Her goal is for her estate planning clients to walk away with a customized, detailed, realistic, and clear estate plan which will accomplish their wishes. Estate planning can be uncomfortable and confusing and her goal is to explain complicated legal options in a way that is easy to understand and clear. Her desire is to provide peace of mind and clarity for her clients while also giving them the information necessary to make well informed decision. Judy has been a member of the Elder Law and Real Property and Trust sections of the Washington State Bar Association and King County Bar Association. She has been a volunteer attorney with the King County Bar Association Neighborhood Clinic and Pro Bono Services for the past 14 years where she was recognized as volunteer of the month in October 2014. Judy is married with three children. Outside of work she enjoys traveling to sunny locations, exercising (HIIT and barbell classes keep her grounded) and spending time with the people (and animals) she loves.

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