Up until a few short weeks ago, it was sometimes tough to get people talking, or thinking, about estate planning. For many, the topic was awkward, may have seemed morbid, and just wasn’t a top priority. But then COVID-19 hit North America. Almost overnight, getting a Will, powers of attorney and other estate planning documentation in place became top of mind for people in all demographics, across our society.
Isolating at home, it’s difficult to escape thoughts about mortality, and the vulnerability that each of us may have. Our thoughts may have turned to our parents or other loved ones, wondering what plans they have in place, and whether they’re looking to you to fill a role in those plans. Having a conversation with your parents and loved ones about their estate plans may feel awkward, even intrusive perhaps, but not if you approach it from a place of caring and concern.
Starting the conversation
Try starting with the basics, like confirming they have Wills and powers of attorney. Ask your parents how long ago the documents were drafted, and whether they’ve reviewed them recently to make sure they still reflect their wishes. Also ask where the original documents can be found, and who the key contacts are, like the lawyers and accountants that have worked with them.
You may also want to understand who they’ve named as attorney, and as executor. An attorney, named in a power of attorney, is the person appointed to step into another person’s shoes while that other person is still alive, but unable or incapable of making decisions for themselves. An executor is the person appointed to wind up another person’s affairs upon their death. Both roles are huge responsibilities, and can involve a great deal of time, energy, and emotional burden.
Are you their executor or named as their attorney?
If you find out you are the named attorney or executor, take the time to research the role and make sure it’s something you feel you’re able to undertake. If not, that’s another conversation to have with your parents at a later date. If you’re the named attorney or executor, it’s also important to make sure you’ll have a full list of all of the assets they own, and any debts outstanding. Don’t forget about their digital assets and accounts—items that may have no paper trail, and accessible online only.
A colleague, whom I respect a great deal, once told me that the greatest gift his father-in-law left them was a very organized file that told his family and executors everything they needed to know, and where to find it—a “When I Die” folder, essentially. (My father in law created one of these for his children as well, but only as it pertained to his wine collection!)
This conversation really should be a family affair, including all siblings or any other family members who are impacted by the plan. It will make things so much easier when the time comes if all family members have a good understanding of what the expectations are, ahead of time.
And while you’re at it, don’t forget to think about your own Will and powers of attorney. If you were to become incapable of managing your own decisions, even temporarily as a result of hospitalization or otherwise, your loved ones would be forced to go to court to get authority to act on your behalf.
It’s not easy to think about our own demise, becoming incapacitated, or our loved ones leaving us. Now, when some of us find ourselves with some extra time on our hands, we have the opportunity to start important conversations about estate planning. Planning that will help give you and your parents peace of mind knowing there are documents in place to ensure their wishes are met.
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