Traditionally, Thanksgiving is the holiday when the entire family, for better or worse, comes together. After the melatonin calms everyone’s nerves, this a great opportunity for families to discuss sensitive topics which are often set aside for “some other time”. In some instances, the discussion might be driven by children encouraging family members to get the ball rolling on their planning. In others, it might be a recognition by the family that a loved one needs assistance due to the onset or progression of a cognitive impairment necessitating family involvement. Finally, parents who are actively engaged in their planning should use this as an opportunity to bring their children into the “loop”.
Often, children are concerned that their parents have no plan in place, but to their surprise, they learn learn that their parents have already met with an attorney and have attended to their affairs. I find that many people prepare their estate planning documents, only to keep it a secret from their children and family. If you are a parent of adult children, it is a good idea to let them in on the secret. The administration of an estate becomes very difficult when those persons involved have no knowledge of the affairs prior to death.
If no planning has been done, you might suggest to your loved one that they should schedule a consultation with an elder law attorney to talk about preparing a Last Will and Testament, Medicaid Trust or Revocable Trust. Too often people are focused on the details of the specific planning techniques, rather than the goal of actual planning. For instance, do not try to explain the difference between a Revocable Trust and Medicaid Trust to your family member. Rather, explain to them the importance of memorializing their wishes upon death so their family can carry out their plan and to also protect their assets if they become sick and require long-term care. This will make it easier for them to take the next step and schedule a consultation. If they continue to be reluctant, suggest they begin with smaller items such as preparing a power of attorney. In my experience, this is a good way for them to dip their toes into the water.
In that same fashion, you might ask them about their feelings if they one day need long term care and must spend a significant portion of their assets on it. After all, the cost of such care would reduce the inheritance passing to their children. If this topic provokes any negative feelings, you might suggest that they meet with an elder law attorney to discuss asset protection strategies, such as a Medicaid Trust. Leave the details of a Medicaid Trust to someone like me.
Finally, where it is evident that someone needs assistance due to cognitive impairments, you need to be proactive and perhaps meet with an elder law attorney on your own for guidance and insight on potential solutions to ensure the well-being and safety of your loved one.
Remember, the goal is not to educate your loved ones, but to move the needle in the right direction by fostering an atmosphere conducive to these sensitive conversations. Avoid “telling” them what to do. Rather, use real life examples of other family members and friends. Show your genuine concern for their well-being to guide them in the right direction.