This is a tough scenario. It happens more often than you would think. Someone owns a home, investment accounts and an inheritance, but does not want to have an estate plan. They know they need to do something, but keep putting it off—until they die, and the family is left with an expensive and stressful mess. A recent article titled “How to Get a Loved One to Visit an Estate Planning Attorney Before It’s Too Late” from Kiplinger, explains how to help make things right.
Most people put off seeing an estate planning attorney, because they are afraid of death. They may also be overwhelmed by the thought of how much work is involved. They are also worried about what it all might cost. However, if there is no estate plan, the costs will be far higher for the family.
How do you get the person to understand that they need to move forward?
Talk with the financial professionals the person already uses and trusts, like a CPA or financial advisor. Ask them for a referral to an estate planning attorney they think would be a good fit with the person who does not have an estate plan. It may be easier to hear this message from a CPA, than from an adult child.
Work with that professional to promote the person, usually an older family member, to get comfortable with the idea to talk about their wishes and values with the estate planning attorney. Offer to attend the meeting, or to facilitate the video conference, to make the person feel more comfortable.
An experienced estate planning attorney will have worked with reluctant people before. They will know how to put the older person at ease and explore their concerns. When the conversation is pleasant and productive, the person may understand that the process will not be as challenging and that there will be a lot of help along the way.
If there is no trusted team of professionals, then offer to be a part of any conversations with the estate planning attorney to make the introductory discussion easier. Share your own experience in estate planning, and tread lightly.
Trying to force a person to engage in estate planning with a heavy hand, almost always ends up in a stubborn refusal. A gentle approach will always be more successful. Explain how part of the estate plan includes planning for medical decisions while the person is living and is not just about distributing their assets. You should be firm, consistent and kind.
Explaining what their family members will need to go through if there is no will, may or may not have an impact. Some people do not care, and may simply shrug and say, “It will be their problem, not mine.” Consider what or who matters to the person. What if they could leave assets for a favorite grandchild to go to college? That might be more motivating.
One other thing to consider: if the person has an estate plan and it is out of date, that may be just as bad as not having an estate plan at all, especially when the person has been divorced and remarried. Just as many people refuse to have an estate plan, many people fail to update important documents, when they remarry. More than a few spouses come to estate planning attorney’s offices, when a loved one’s life insurance policy is going to their prior spouse. It is too late to make any changes. A health care directive could also name a former brother-in-law to make important medical decisions. During a time of great duress, it is a bad time to learn that the formerly close in-law, who is now a sworn enemy, is the only one who can speak with doctors. Do not procrastinate, if any of these issues are present.
Reference: Kiplinger (May 11, 2020) “How to Get a Loved One to Visit an Estate Planning Attorney Before It’s Too Late”