The topic that should be discussed… but rarely is

Doug Horn

Estate planning seems to be such a feared topic that it is probably discussed less frequently than many of the ailments individuals often suffer. In a social setting, I am more likely to hear about somebody’s hernia than the fact they have taken action on their estate plan!

Many act as though if estate planning is discussed, this may bring about someone’s death. This is clearly more superstition than fact. But while it is superstition, this does not change the fact it is not always a willing topic for discussion.

Today, many families no longer live in the same state, much less the same neighborhood. Estate planning is and should be more about the person than the documents. When our parents reach the stage of life where reliance upon themselves is no longer possible, family members are often the first line of defense. While this may be a difficult topic to discuss, if it is addressed prior to its need, the lifestyle and dignity of our parents may be preserved or at least become less damaged.

Not everyone over the age of 70 is well prepared for what life may present. Whether it is the deterioration of an able body by disease into someone who has to be cared for in every action during the day, or the emptying of a lifetime of savings because there has been more life than money, a parent may need the assistance and care from their children in the final stages of their life. While I have discussed in prior articles the need for current and proper documents, the Will or Power of Attorney forms do not always address every need.

Most everyone clearly identifies the executor or successor trustee. And since there is a Will or Trust in place, it is not hard to assume the estate planning process is complete. However, there are many additional decisions that may be needed that these documents often do not address. When a parent has already lost their partner for life and their children are scattered across the country, what should the parent do when their health starts to fail them? Not every parent has the finances or capability due to health to transition to an assisted living facility. Secondly, this type of facility may not be available when and where it is needed.

Lives today are chalked full of activities, and adding the care of an aging parent is not something that can easily be handled by simply waiving a wand. It will require dedication, patience, understanding, time and more time. Often it may require a parent to move so the child can continue their work and yet provide the required care. This step is not easy to consider and necessitates the parent be willing to leave behind their friends, doctors, comfort level, and often their independence. However, with advance planning and coordination among the children and parent(s), this change for the parent may occur with less stress.

Additionally, not every child will be able to share in the duties and “sacrifices” equally. Finances, location, age, and existing commitments all play a part of the ability of each to share in the care of the parent. This disproportionate sharing of responsibilities can be a thorn for many families. Whether it is one or more of the children, stress and squabbles can occur. These can impact the parent negatively if they become aware of the family discord. So addressing this issue in advance may make this time of life for the parent better and less stressful.

While estate planning also covers the transition of a family’s wealth to their heirs, typical documents do not always cover what to do with the many personal items. What is important to one child may be something bound for the trashcan for another. While no one should be sitting around like vultures waiting for the appropriate time to “go for the goods”, advance conversations and planning can once again have the opportunity to keep the peace within the family. Giving away many of these items in advance can serve several purposes, but it needs to be known these gifts have taken place. Using a video cam or digital photos and a letter can assist the family in honoring a parent’s wish.

This time in a parent’s life while sad, can be filled with wonderful memories if the proper steps are taken and a consensus among everyone is reached.

For help with estate planning and managing investment assets, contact me at Quality Financial Concepts or one of the other Certified Financial Planners in our area. To continue a personal quest for education, you can also view our website, There you will find articles on a variety of topics, on-line seminars, calculators, as well as a host of other tools all available for free.

© 2009 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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