Blog 2: Talking to Your Parents About Estate Planning in New Jersey

Last week, we published the first in a series offering expertise and guidance about how to protect your loved ones as they age. This week’s post offers advice on how to have an important conversation with your elderly loved one about estate planning. As always, contact Bratton Scott with any questions about these or other topics relating to elder law, life care planning and estate law.

A Sound, Well-Drafted Estate Plan Provides Peace of Mind for All

As you approach your loved one to start the conversation, remember that your goal is to make sure Mom or Dad’s wishes are followed. Therefore, make sure they know you aren’t trying to take decisions away from them but want to help them make important decisions about their estate plan so they can be in control and have peace of mind.

Focus on this: making their end of life wishes known and having control over what happens to their assets when they die should rest with them, not with a court-appointed stranger who doesn’t know them, their final wishes or what’s best for your family.

So, first things first: Where to begin? Kicking off the discussion by reviewing the various elements of an estate plan (outlined below) is a good start. This list of estate documents may feel overwhelming to your loved one or they may already be familiar with the various elements of an estate plan. If they indicate that they already familiar with what the documents are and have an estate plan, you will want to shift the conversation to the details of that estate plan and make sure they are set up in a way that will most benefit them and reflect their wishes. A thorough review by a qualified experienced attorney is recommended, especially when an estate plan hasn’t been revised in five or more years.

Estate planning is an ongoing process and can sometimes be overwhelming for an elderly person when discussing too many topics at once. Breaking the discussion up into multiple conversations may be the best way to go in that circumstance.

The Basic Elements of an Estate Plan:

  • A will is a document that outlines a person’s possessions and dictates to whom those items will be distributed after the person passes away. In addition to making sure your loved one’s wishes are carried out, having a well-drafted will in place may help family members avoid arguments. You can rely on your Bratton Scott estate lawyer to walk your loved one through this process. We will protect their rights and interests.
  • Advance directives are important because it’s quite likely that your loved one has personal beliefs on critical topics such as ongoing life support, if the issue arises. A living will allows a person to put those wishes in writing so there are hopefully no misunderstandings.
  • Healthcare Proxy and Power of Attorney: In the event a person becomes incapacitated and is unable to make their wishes known regarding healthcare and business/financial issues, having documents in place that authorize loved ones to act in accordance with pre-discussed wishes may offer peace of mind.
  • Provision of ongoing care for any developmentally disabled dependents: It’s important to make sure that legal protections are put in place so that government-assigned benefits for a developmentally disabled dependent are not interrupted, such as a special needs trust.
  • Insurance: At Bratton Scott, we can discuss about how much life, disability and long-term care insurance is necessary for your loved one. We can also discuss the pros and cons of long-term care insurance.
  • Documents that dictate what happens to a business when the owner dies at death or if responsibilities cannot be carried out due to disability or illness.
  • Tax issues also need to be addressed and should be discussed with a qualified attorney.

It’s important to note that there are many other documents to consider adding to your estate plan, depending on your particular family circumstances. The bottom line is that an estate plan clearly outlines a person’s wishes, assigns responsibilities and minimizes tax and other financial liabilities. Additionally, keep in mind that as time marches on, and life circumstances evolve, every estate plan should be reviewed and updated as necessary.

If your aging loved one hasn’t put an estate plan in place, perhaps it’s because they have always thought, “I don’t own much. There’s no need for me to make the effort for estate planning.” You may have even agreed with them. But consider this: almost everyone has an estate. It may include one, several or all of these: car, home, other owned real estate, checking and/or savings accounts, investments, IRAs, 401(k)s, 403 (b)s, life insurance, personal property and furnishings.

When someone dies without a proper estate plan in place, the intestacy laws will determine the distribution of assets. Probate proceedings can be both lengthy and expensive. Therefore, while beginning a conversation about estate planning with your Mom or Dad may understandably feel uncomfortable, you can rest assured that taking a proactive approach is truly best for them.

The estate planning attorneys at Bratton Scott have significant experience drafting wills and other estate planning documents for clients throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Contact our office to get started. As your circumstances evolve, changes can be made to update your plans accordingly. Call our office today to find out how we can help you successfully plan for the future of your estate.

Next week, please check back to read the third blog post in this series about important issues to discuss with your elderly loved one.