How To Talk to Your Parents About Their Will
Life can change in an instant. A sudden health incident, a new diagnosis, or changes to family structure are all common reasons why you would need to update your Will. In recent months, the uncertainty of living through a pandemic has caused many to start thinking about and activating an estate plan. However, not everyone attends to making a Will with the same zest and vigour.
Approaching this topic with parents can seem a little bit daunting. A Will can be a sensitive subject because our parents may have difficulty facing their own mortality. Alternately, the kids struggle to face the thought of their mom or dad dying, which brings out uncomfortable feelings as well. Yet the cost of putting off making a Will does mean that no one is in charge when someone dies. There is no executor to keep safe assets and pay bills and just deal with the day to day personal business needs of a deceased person. And, the inheritance goes to the people designated in the law based on the calculations pre-defined. The inheritance will not necessarily go to the loved ones or charities a deceased person would have chosen.
As a Notary Public I have special insight into people’s lives. Almost daily clients see me whether for a notarized document or getting a Will made because they have just been through a family event where someone did not have a Will — or there are a lot of family dynamics. Plainly spoken, not having a Will or an up-to-date Will adds grief on top of grief.
To understand how to talk to your parents helps to look at the common reasons people avoid starting or updating their Will:
- Perceived lack of assets (i.e. I don’t own anything).
- Money/cost concerns. See this as discretional spending.
- “Tempting fate” or can’t or won’t face own mortality.
- The family already knows what I want to happen. They’ll deal with it.
- Still thinking about what to put in the Will.
- “I’ll do it when I need to”.
- Procrastination or putting it off to later.
- Family structure – estrangement, complicated dynamics, does not want to upset a family member or choose between different kids for roles.
- Not wanting to discuss personal matters with a family member or a legal professional.
- Don’t care.
You might be surprised at the real reasons Wills are avoided. Yes, some of the above are very true factors, but often people don’t know who to trust to talk about their Will or how to get started. For adult children who want to approach the topic with aging parents I recommend to ease into it. Often I’ll suggest that they start of by talking about updating their own documents and this gives a perfect opportunity to bring up the subject of parents Wills.
Some basic questions you want to have answered are:
- Do you have a Will?
- Is it up-to-date?
- Have you done any other personal planning documents?
The single best reason to encourage parents to make a Will is to avoid leaving a big mess for family and loved ones. The second-best reason is that you can make the Will you want and leave assets to the people you want.
Some guidelines to follow when talking to your parents about making their Will:
- Before anything else, emphasize that you’re coming from a practical place + love and respect explain that you want to have this conversation because you care about your parent and want to ensure their wishes are followed. This can aid in establishing a sense of trust and open communication from the start.
- Start with talking about the Will only. Powers of Attorney are a natural part of the discussion, but don’t overwhelm the topic. Focus on one thing first and make it the goal. Once the Will is sorted out or done and signed, then bring up the other documents. If you’re lucky, your parents will bring these documents up themselves!
- You will want to gather some information such as if there is a preexisting Will, and how long it has been since the last update. There are certain life changes that dictate whether a Will should be updated such as the birth of a child, a divorce, a death, a change in finances, a shift in family dynamic, along with other things. You’ll want to assess what stage in the process your parents are at and if they haven’t started or updated their Will in a while.
- If you can, make it a collaborative conversation. Try and include members of the immediate family in talking about it – this will help reduce the likelihood of a disgruntled beneficiary or squabble later and ensure everyone is on the same page.
- Talk about the roles and make sure everyone understands the responsibility being taken on. Who will take on the role of Executor or Alternate Executor? It’s important that those stepping into these roles are made aware of legal and financial responsibilities.
- Introduce your parent to your notary or other trusted legal professional who has established practice in wills and estate planning. Most professionals will grant a consult or initial meeting – especially if a person is nervous or not sure how to start. This relationship matters – the notary can guide them through what to expect in the process and help alleviate concerns or answer long lingering questions. Some legal firms provide an estate-planning intake form or will questionnaire that starts the preparation for preplanning and fact-gathering.
As a Notary Public, I know that this can be an intimidating process for some people. My goal is to ensure people are comfortable creating a Will that they want. We have created a Will Questionnaire as a starting point for my clients in an effort to streamline and simplify the Will-making process.