How to Talk to your Parents About Estate Planning

How to Talk to Your Parents about Getting a Living Trust

Though we all lead different lives, one thing is for certain: we all die at some point. Despite this certainty, talking about death has become a taboo topic in society, especially when it involves finances. 

It also goes without saying that as responsible children, we want to carry out the wishes of our parents. This is going to be difficult to do once they pass, especially if they have never communicated their desires when they were still alive. It can be particularly painful if no wishes have been documented in a will or a trust.

This can cause family rifts and irreparable relationship damage. Relatives who have never been part of the decedent’s life often come forward (or “out of the woodwork”) to claim assets when a loved one passes away. You can avoid these problems in the future by communicating with your parents about their estate plans today.

A living trust is a surefire way to ensure that your parents’ wishes are fulfilled after they pass. If the decedent’s wealth is less than $166,250 a simple will might help avoid probate, but a living trust can allow you to skip the probate court entirely—which is a huge bonus in itself for lots of families. 

But in a society that considers death a taboo, how do you exactly bring up the subject of getting a living trust without seeming greedy?

  1. Be Careful of Your Language 

One of the most common causes of disputes within families is miscommunication. Your reason for bringing up the living trust with your parents is because you want to avoid misunderstandings later on and making sure that their wishes are carried out. Carelessly using words they may misinterpret is an easy way to sabotage what you’re setting out to do.

Instead of immediately talking about the living trust, convey first where you’re coming from. Tell them that you’ve seen siblings become permanently estranged due to differing interpretations of a parent’s will. You can also talk to your parents about how some people wound up incurring a fortune in estate taxes and probate costs because a parent only left behind a will. Then, you can mention how a living trust may help prevent those. 

  1. Involve Your Siblings at the Right Time

Your parents’ estate plans usually involve your siblings. It’s vital that you involve your siblings in the conversation. Just be careful not to gang up on your parents, as this may be taken negatively.

Involving your siblings in a conversation about your parents’ estate and the value of a living trust will provide your parents and siblings the confidence that you’re not just looking out for yourself. This is a key factor when it comes to avoiding miscommunication.

Most of the time, we talk to people about sensitive topics when we’re ready. But establishing a living trust for your parents isn’t about you, it’s about them and what they wish to happen with the assets and properties they worked hard to accumulate for decades.

If you don’t want to be misinterpreted, make sure that you talk to your parents when they are ready to talk about this sensitive topic. Instead of just springing the topic on them while you’re having a casual conversation, set up a meeting where they know what you will talk about. 

You and your siblings should tell your parents that you’re unclear about their wishes in terms of their estate and you wouldn’t want to misinterpret their wishes and mishandle their assets. Convey how you want to support their wishes and that you wish to give them space to convey such sentiments when they are ready. 

When they’re ready, bring up the topic of living trusts and how it can help your parents make sure their wishes are carried out.

  1. Focus On Your Parents’ Wants 

One of the advantages of a living trust is determining a trust grantor’s wishes while they are still alive. Bringing up the conversation with your parents means that you want to help them carry out what they want. 

Therefore, it’s crucial in this conversation that you focus solely on what they want and less about what anyone else’s desires. If you or any of your siblings are experiencing financial difficulties, acknowledge this and perhaps have the conversation at another time.

If a parent is aware of your financial difficulties, they can easily misinterpret the conversation as you wanting money due to the timing. This is the last thing you want to happen.

When talking to your parents about getting a living trust, be careful not to question their wishes. Though we’re curious and sometimes their wishes don’t make sense to us, you should avoid asking “why?” 

This probing question conveys mistrust of their judgement and can make them lose faith in you. Even if you don’t mean anything by it, tempering your curiosity could make the difference between them thinking you’re there to help and them thinking you’re there to get their money.

  1. Allow Yourself To Be Vulnerable

Any conversation involving finances, estate planning, or succession can be a difficult one. When parents have their children try to talk to them about it, they may feel like their ability to manage their finances is being questioned, or that their children are thinking about their death.

Such discussions are often emotional. If your parents talk to you about this, they will be making themselves vulnerable to you. Because of the parent-child relationship or perhaps because of their pride, parents may find it difficult to open up. 

A good way to approach parents and help them feel more at ease to talk to you about such a topic is by allowing yourself to be vulnerable first. Convey to them your reasons for bringing up the topic. Sincerely convey your worries to your parents. Chances are they can empathize with you and wouldn’t want any of your worries to come true either.

  1. Remember That Details Aren’t Everything

When talking to your parents about the possibility of getting a living trust, don’t get caught up in the details. Though details are important, they shouldn’t be brought up in every situation especially when your parents are reluctant. 

The topic of a living trust can be emotionally triggering for your parents; pushing for details may come across as insensitive or greedy even though you’re only concerned about making sure they get what they want.

If your parents are only willing to talk about the general concept of what they want to happen with their estate, leave it at that and don’t probe further. If they’re interested in a living trust but are uncomfortable talking to you about them, arrange a consultation with an estate planning lawyer in Orange County

Because of attorney-client privilege, they may be more comfortable talking to an Orange County estate planning attorney who can help arrange the living trust in confidence.

Enlist the Help of a Trusted Attorney

Another tactic you can use to talk to your parents about getting a living trust is by showing them this article. Let them read it and have a conversation about the benefits a living trust can give them. You can also enlist the help of an Orange County estate planning attorney to more thoroughly explain how a living trust can help them carry out their wishes.

Maria Parker assists her clients plan for their end of life health care wishes and the ultimate distribution of their wealth after death. She personally experienced the importance of planning at the time her father passed away.

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