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Have That Talk With Your Parents, Before It's Too Late!


Talking about estate planning and other topics that relate to our own mortality is never easy. Sometimes it is even harder to do this with those we love. However, having those conversations now can make life a lot easier for their surviving family members in the future.  My father passed away in May. At 89 years old, he was not known as a man of many words, but we talked every day and I saw him at least once a week. But like many from his generation, he was never really comfortable talking about his estate planning, finances, or health issues.

As the oldest of three sons, and the only CPA financial planner in the family, you would think that I should have had regular conversations with him about this. Luckily, we did get a chance to talk about his desires for funeral arrangements a few days before he died, but there were a lot of other questions I should have asked that would have made life a little easier for my mother after his death. We have since learned a lot more about safe deposit boxes, other accounts, loan balances, and life insurance, but still have more to uncover.

We have also recently had some clients go through the same process with their parents, with much more complex estates and financial situations. One client, whose father died recently, discovered he was in the middle of moving his assets to a revocable trust and left numerous accounts in various stages of retitling. In what turned into part-treasure hunt, part-unsolved mysteries, I have seen his survivors struggle with identifying all of the myriad pieces of his financial affairs. Things just do not need to be this complicated.

Talk to your parents and older relatives now and make sure someone knows details about various critical aspects of their personal finances and estate planning. Some of the most important items include:

  1. Funeral plans – Do they want to be buried or cremated? Do they have cemetery plots? What kind of funeral service do they want?
  2. Estate planning documents – As you may know, an original will needs to be located after death. Where is it kept?  It is also good to know where any trust documents and other letters of intent might reside.
  3. Financial power of attorney – This is a very important document during lifetime in the event that you are incapacitated.  Of course, this power stops at death.
  4. Health care power of attorney/living will – You will need this when undergoing medical procedures.
  5. Titles and other proof of ownership documents – Make sure you know where titles to cars, houses, other real estate, etc. are located.
  6. Bank accounts and log in information – With so much of our everyday banking now done online, make sure you know how to access accounts.
  7. Life insurance policies – Often, small policies are forgotten over the years; make sure you know what is currently in force.
  8. Investment and retirement accounts – try to have a good listing of all accounts – this will make it much easier in the future to get these retitled efficiently. 

While it might not be easy to discuss these issues right now, doing so will make life a lot easier for family members down the road.  

To download a Word version of this article, click here.