Important Holiday Conversations

Going home for the holidays is a family tradition where you get to reconnect with your loved ones whom you haven’t seen in months, or even years. As families gather to give thanks and spend quality time with one another over this and next month’s special holidays, it may also be a good time to discuss some weightier topics including aging parents’ wishes and intent with regard to estate planning matters.

You’re probably thinking, the holidays, really?  Many people are less pressured by work duties during the holidays, family members are often together when they cannot be together other times of the year, and most importantly, you and your siblings and/or significant others are with your parents and can observe them first-hand.   Estate planning is all about life’s transitions and feeling comfortable that the one’s you trust are ready to be of assistance.  Who will serve as a health care and/or financial fiduciary to the parents?  Will it be one of the children, or a trusted third party? What about health care decisions?

Consider these facts:
·         More than 90% of the people think it’s important to talk about their loved ones’ and their own wishes for end-of-life care. Less than 30% of people have discussed what they or their family wants when it comes to end-of-life care. (Source: National Survey by The Conversation Project, 2013).
·         60% of people say that making sure their family is not burdened by tough decisions is “extremely important.” 56% have not communicated their end-of-life wishes. (Source: Survey of Californians by the California HealthCare Foundation, 2012)
·         70% of people say they prefer to die at home. 70% die in a hospital, nursing home, or long-term care facility (Source: Centers for Disease Control, 2005).
·         80% of people say that if seriously ill, they would want to talk to their doctor about end-of-life care.  7% report having had an end-of-life conversation with their doctor.  (Source: Survey of Californians by the California HealthCare Foundation, 2012).
·         82% of people say it’s important to put their wishes in writing.  23% have actually done it with estate planning. (Source: Survey of Californians by the California HealthCare Foundation, 2012).

Adult children often have many questions and concerns about a parent’s long-term care needs, who will retain certain sentimental belongings and whether a will or trust has been established and, if so, what that means for them and their own families. Despite the fact that these and many other related questions are on the minds of adult children who return home for the holidays, many are too uncomfortable to inquire or start conversations about estate planning.

We urge you to try to make time for that conversation when everyone may be present to share their thoughts and concerns.  Consider the holiday gift giving.  What better time to ask your children how they feel about certain items in the house and what special meaning they attach to them.  Some of our clients initially tell us, “My kids don’t want my stuff.”  You may be surprised at the items of tangible personal property that will matter to your children.  It is not always about the item; it’s about the special feeling the items brings them from thinking of the loved one.  From the rocking chair that was used to help countless children and grandchildren get to sleep, to the ladle and spatula used for so many family meals.  From the candy dish that belonged to great grandma, to the pocket watch a relative brought over when they immigrated to the U.S.  You may be surprised by what such a conversation reveals.

Having such conversations with aging parents, according to a Fidelity Investments survey, has a positive effect on all parties. In that survey, peace of mind jumped to 91% (among elderly parents who had had “the talk”) from 61% among those who had not.  Aligning parents’ needs with the ability of loving children to help shoulder the planning and administrative load can be an extremely valuable achievement.  By heading into 2018 with a plan, having everyone on the same page can take some of the worry and hardship out of the aging process.  That just may be the best gift you can give.