All posts by Danielle G. Van Ess

About Danielle G. Van Ess

Danielle G. Van Ess is a Massachusetts (born and raised), experienced estate planning and small business attorney who helps her clients protect and preserve what matters most to them. To learn more, please visit: dgvelaw.com or call: 781-740-0848

Should I write my own Will?

The more cynical amongst us would say, by all means, please do your own estate plan! That is my retirement plan with guaranteed future work to untangle the inadvertent messes.DIY Will - Ticking Time BombI’m still holding onto hope that people will listen to us when we caution you that:

  • there is more to estate planning than “verbiage”
  • it requires more than a lawyer’s eyeballs to review it:
    • she has to actually use her brain to spot all the issues involved, recall all the laws that apply, analyze the best possible solutions for your unique situation, and then
    • she has to use her mouth to explain that all to you in plain English until you understand and can make well-informed choices about how to proceed with your own plan.

Meanwhile, here’s another cautionary tale from my friend and colleague, Texas Wills, Trusts, & Estates lawyer Rania Combs:

The Nightmare of DIY Planning

A couple of weeks ago, I received a phone call from a woman whose ex-boyfriend had died, naming her as the sole beneficiary and executor of his multimillion dollar estate.

Despite her ex-boyfriend’s substantial wealth, he had forgone the advice of a lawyer and prepared a Will using DIY software. He told her verbally that he wanted her to use the funds for the benefit of his minor children, but his Will was completely silent on that point.

The ex-boyfriend’s goal was apparently to use his substantial wealth to provide for his children. If he had consulted an attorney, the attorney would have advised him to create a testamentary trust for their benefit. Creating a trust would have allowed him to appoint someone to manage those assets for his children, and to dictate how and when the assets should be distributed to them. This would have ensured the assets passed to his children as he wished.

He took a substantial risk when he named his ex-girlfriend the sole beneficiary of his estate:

  1. Naming her as the sole beneficiary gives her legal ownership of those assets. She is not legally bound to provide anything to his children.
  2. Even if she does honor her commitment, life sometimes gets in the way. Because those assets legally belong to her, they can be exposed to her personal liabilities. For example, suppose she gets in a terrible accident and seriously injures someone else. The assets earmarked for the children could be exposed to a judgment for those claims.
  3. What happens she dies before the children? Since she has legal ownership of those assets, they will be part of her estate and will pass to her heirs or beneficiaries, who may not have made a commitment to care for the children.

As a result of his choice, his children’s financial future is in the hands of their father’s ex-girlfriend who has no biological or emotional ties to them.

What a nightmare!

Attorneys don’t simply fill in forms. We use our years of schooling and experience to analyze your unique circumstances, explain the ramifications of your choices, advise you on the best way to accomplish your goals and objectives, and tailor your documents to address your unique estate planning needs. Document preparation services and canned forms do not.

{What she said ^}

Should We Have Joint or Individual Revocable Living Trusts as a Married Couple?

Should We Have Joint or Individual Revocable Living Trusts
as a Married Couple Estate Planning Together?

I’ve been getting this question a lot lately: Why shouldn’t we, as a married couple who have had all joint accounts and joint ownership, just have one joint revocable living trust instead of separate or individual revocable living trusts?

Joint revocable living trusts can and do make sense for some married couples some of the time, just like Wills rather than trusts sometimes make more sense in a given situation. It is always important to review all of your personal family and financial circumstances with your estate planning lawyer to be sure that you have a complete and accurate understanding of how and why one approach may be better suited to you than another.

wedding rings

To broadly generalize, however, here are 8 reasons I would recommend individual living trusts rather than a joint trust for a married couple planning together:

1. If you and your spouse are likely to have over $2M combined total assets in your estate (including the value of any life insurance policies that would have paid out upon your deaths and the value of all retirement accounts), this is a way to minimize the impact of the Massachusetts estate tax (which has a $1M threshold for filing and an upper tax rate of 16% on the adjusted total assets in your estate).

2. If you and your spouse are likely to leave a combined total of over $10.86M, as the federal estate tax currently stands, then this is a way to minimize the effect of the federal estate tax as part of your overall estate plan. Note that the federal estate tax has been in existence for about a century in one way or another, but this is the highest exemption amount we’ve ever had and being the political hot button topic that it is, there is no guarantee that the present exemption or tax rates will stay where they are. In fact, if the last 15 years have demonstrated anything (going from a $1M exemption and 55% tax rate in 2001 to the present levels), it’s that the federal estate tax is highly likely to shift around, sometimes rather dramatically! Without a crystal ball the best we can do is to draft very flexible plans and keep a lookout for all the possible chances that may occur.

3. It is easier for your surviving spouse and/or trustee to determine, in consultation with your estate planning attorney, your CPA, and your financial advisor working together as a team, which assets to fund into which irrevocable subtrusts to take into account the laws as they exist at that time of your death. If the assets were held in a joint trust, your surviving spouse and/or trustee would not be able to move assets held jointly into the credit shelter or family trust or it could invalidate the tax exemption status of that entire subtrust.

4. When you die, you’re not around to change the terms of your trust anymore, so at that point, your trust becomes irrevocable at least in part. The portions of your trust that would benefit your surviving spouse and your children, if applicable, become irrevocable. If you have a separate revocable living trust, you can still amend your own trust even after the death of your spouse. This provides a surviving spouse with more flexibility and autonomy than a joint trust would.

5. If yours is a second or subsequent marriage and/or blended family, you and your spouse may not have the same plan for distribution and the flexibility you have to make somewhat different plans can avoid some potential family drama.

6. To minimize estate taxes, you will have to divide assets at some point. I believe that it is probably a lot easier to cherry-pick and split up assets now, while you are in full possession of your faculties and not in the process of grieving the loss of your spouse, than it would be in the relatively immediate aftermath of his or her death and without his or her assistance with the process.

7. If you or your spouse came into the marriage with substantially unequal assets, separate trusts can also be a way to maintain the character of those separate assets and ensure that they end up where you ultimately intend.

8. There are also some questions, and potential traps, regarding the character of assets contributed to a joint trust as opposed to separate trusts. For examples, depending on the language and provisions of the trust itself, it may not be explicitly clear what portion of the assets in a joint trust should be attributed to the deceased spouse vs. which portion of those assets would be considered part of the surviving spouse’s estate, and contributions to a joint trust may be counted as a taxable gift to your children or other secondary beneficiaries.

After a full examination of your current family and financial circumstances and a personal discussion with you about your goals and priorities in terms of your estate plan, your attorney will be able to help you make the best informed choices about which type of plan best suits you and your family.

The End of an Era of Mad Men

SPOILER ALERT! If you haven’t already watched the series finale of Mad Men, don’t read on just yet!

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Roger Sterling inherited more than just his father’s wealth; Roger inherited his father’s name. With that name hanging proudly on the side of the Madison Ave ad agency his father founded, Roger also inherited the title of Managing Partner at Sterling Cooper (turned Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce).

Roger has one daughter, Margo, and by her one grandson, Ellery. Ellery has his father’s last name, not Sterling’s, ending the family blood line name in an era when that still mattered very much to most. Then Margo rejects everything about her former life even her name, becoming “Marigold” instead, after leaving her husband and Ellery to live in a hippie commune.

JRK

Roger also has a son who is younger than his grandson. Having been conceived and born of an affair both he and his son’s mother, Joan Holloway Harris, wanted to keep quiet, Kevin bears the last name of a man who never was any kind of father to him at all. Roger tries to help take care of his son financially and even to be in his life, but in an effort to protect Kevin, Joan keeps Roger at a safe emotional distance.RS

Decades of living like he was on shore leave from the Navy haven’t changed Roger a bit, but something finally has and he tells Joan he is changing his Will. Roger asks Joan not to disclaim or reject the inheritance he wants to leave to provide for their son Kevin (and Ellery). Joan gratefully accepts, realizing that that gift spells freedom for her to pursue her own dreams without the fear of risking her son’s security.

JK

And with that, Holloway Harris is born, with 2 names from the same woman, a pioneering working mother in a mad era that required the right combination of names just to be taken seriously.  Farewell, Mad Men, you will be fondly remembered and sorely missed.

Final Wishes for Mad Men

{Spoiler alert! If you’re not up to date on Mad Men, you don’t want to read this yet!}

Cancer sucks. Chemotherapy sucks. Radiation sucks. There seems to be pretty universal agreement about these matters. But the choices about whether, when, and how to pursue or forgo treatments are far more complicated. What type(s) of cancer? Where and how far spread? What are the chances of getting the cancer into remission? What is the life expectancy for that type of cancer? What does the quality of that life that’s left look like? As Betty Draper put it in the series penultimate episode poignantly on this Mothers’ Day, “and what would that year be like?”

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What would you miss? What could you not bear to risk missing under any circumstances? What access to medical care do you have? What financial resources do you have? What social support resources do you have? Given the same diagnosis, would you choose the same path as Betty Draper? Does your family know what you would really want? How do they know? And what if they don’t agree with you or with one another?

Betty Draper didn’t win any awards for Mother of the Year. And in particular, her relationship with her daughter, her oldest child, is far from enviable. At best Betty was coldly indifferent and apparently annoyed by the practical daily burdens of parenting (despite having more paid help than most of us can imagine having). At worst she was cruel. In this second to last episode of the Mad Men series, it physically hurt to watch Betty glare and walk right past a stunned Sally who had come home to try to help after learning of her mother’s diagnosis.

After that brush, Sally reacts to her mother’s assertions that she will not pursue treatment by suggesting the reason is because Betty “love[s] the tragedy.” Clearly Sally’s sympathies have been dulled by a lifetime of other interactions with her mother. In that moment it is clear that Sally accepts Betty’s decision as final. Betty’s husband, Henry, however, is a politician who has worked hard to attain power and does not believe she should concede the fight so easily, challenging her, “What do you think would happen if Nelson Rockefeller got this?” to which Betty quickly replies, “He would die!” Alas, money and power can only buy so much.

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In fact, it is Betty who shows true agency and command here. A few hours later Betty asserts her strength and independence to Sally explaining that knowing when to quit is not the same thing as being a quitter. Reminding Sally of having watched her own mother die, Betty promises not to force Sally to endure the same. Then Betty hands Sally an envelope saying, “These are instructions. Open it the minute you know I’m gone. [ ] Listen to me. Things happen very quickly when people die.”

Betty isn’t sticking her head in the sand refusing to hear or accept the devastating news. Instead, she is facing it with her signature dispassionate composure. Rather than spending her final days “as the battlefield for a futile war,” as John Teti for the AV Club so aptly put it, Betty chooses to follow her own path and do what she had always wanted to do instead. Before watching Betty head back to her college psychology class, we the viewer hear her final wishes voiced over in her detached monotone delivery:

“[ ] you must immediately tell the hospital and the funeral director that I’m to be interred intact in the family plot in West Laurel. Uncle William has the details from Grandpa Gene’s burial. I’ve also enclosed a portrait from the 1968 Republican Winter Gala. The blue chiffon I wore is my very favorite. I hung it in a gold garment bag in the hall closet beside the mink. Please bring them the lipstick from my handbag and remind them how I like to wear my hair. Will you show them the picture? [ ] I love you, Mom.”

Sally Draper reading Betty Draper's final wishes

Why did Betty choose to place that burden on her young daughter rather than on her powerful politician husband who has been the most stable force in her life in a long time? Betty explained to Sally, “Henry’s not going to be able to handle things.” And perhaps that letter helped Sally understand and begin to develop newfound compassion for her mother.

By memorializing your final wishes such as details surrounding your preference for burial or cremation, you can help ensure your surviving loved ones aren’t left wondering or debating it in your absence. And by writing a heartfelt letter to your loved ones, you can help explain why you made the choices you did, how you see yourself and your loved ones, and what you want them to remember about you. Because the courage it takes to sit down and actually write a letter like that is uncommon, I have another method I use to help my clients complete their estate plans with that most essential piece, memorializing who they are, what is important to them, and why they spent the time, energy, and money on a Will or Trust and estate plan at all. Because that is almost never something we do for ourselves; we do it for the people we love the most.

It Would Have Been Us

The following is a guest post by Bob Beal.  Many thanks to Bob for keeping in touch and sharing this with us to illustrate why this type of planning is so important not just for the what-ifs, but also for the genuine peace of mind.  We are so happy that this beautiful family is OK.

In the Winter of 2011, my wife and I sat down with Danielle to put together a plan that would make sure our 2 children were taken care of if we ever weren’t around anymore.  It was a challenging task but it needed to be done.  Danielle put together a wonderfully laid out arrangement that we are completely comfortable having for our family.  Little did we know that just having it in place would bring us such comfort so fast. When you confront you own mortality things get pretty serious, pretty quickly.

One year later in March 2012 my wife and daughter were involved in a life-threatening “jaws of life” level car accident. Our medical documents were tested and having our plan in place brought a measure of immediate relief to an otherwise awful situation.

Then this past August we were on a family vacation in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. Late one afternoon were returning from a day trip to Aspen, driving along a four lane highway with a jersey barrier dividing the east bound from west bound lanes. My 8 year old daughter was complaining about starting to feel car sick so we moved her to the front passenger seat knowing it wasn’t the safest place for a child to sit but not wanting her puking in the car then either.

Bob

Just about then, my wife, who was driving, moved into the right lane to let a motorcycle pass us. He wasn’t speeding or doing anything wrong; he was just a guy out on his Ducati going down the road. He opened up a gap of about 50 to 75 feet ahead up us and coincidently the jersey barrier stopped at that same point.  A white Ford coming east bound veered over into his lane and it was a direct hit, a head on collision of two vehicles both going highway speed.  It was instant. It was violent. It was brutal.

The oncoming car went by us in the wrong direction with a gap of about five feet, the length of a typical house broom.  Our car was hit with debris from the bike. My wife managed to stop our car on the shoulder, in the grass.  The Ducati was laying there still running, badly leaking fuel.  I walked over and shut it off while my wife stayed with our kids, who were understandably terrified, trying to reassure them that we were all okay.

Without going into more details, we all had an avalanche of “what if” scenarios playing out in our minds for at least the next few days.  The most chilling of which was that if the Ford hadn’t hit the motorcycle, it would have been us that were next in his path. An experience like is difficult to make sense of.  We repeatedly came back to our planning with Danielle as a huge source of comfort.  If something tragic ever happened, we knew what would take place and that our children would be taken care of. We still talk about it once in a while, but we also reassure our children that we love them and have made sure that they are going to be all right, no matter what.

How Much Does a Simple Will Cost? (Redux)

Last Will And Testament

At least once a week we see or hear the same question and though we’ve addressed it before, it seems worth repeating.  In the interest of time, rather than write out another full- sentenced blog post on the subject, I’m simply copying and pasting here from the answer just wrote personally responding to this question in a local moms’ group of which, as a mother of 4 young children now between the ages of 1 and 10 (oh my head, my 1st baby just turned 10! I’m still processing this from a couple days ago), I’m a member:

“I agree it’s really hard to just quote a fee without knowing more. Here’s (a long-winded answer – sorry!) why. If you are just looking to plug your names into a couple standard documents, you can probably do it free or very cheap yourself. Then you can wait & see what happens, eventually. Actually, by the time those documents are tested you’ll necessarily be incapacitated or dead (that’s when the documents come into play). A better plan is to seek legal counseling to help you make the most informed choices for your own family based on your unique family and financial circumstances and for that you will need a lawyer who practices in this area of the law (“estate planning”) all or most of the time who will know what questions to ask you so she can spot the issues unique to you and help counsel you through the choices you will need to make (& if she’s good, there will be a lot of questions & a lot of choices!). For examples: what kind of will are you really talking about – just 1 will or 1 for you and 1 for your spouse? simple or pourover into a trust? do you have any children with another partner or does your spouse? are either of you remarried? do you expect anyone to challenge your wishes? what if your spouse wants to remarry if you die? will your Will have a testamentary trust in case you & your spouse both die while your children are still minors? how do you make decisions about who to name for what roles under your plan? who will care for the children and who will handle their money for them – the same person or different people? what if you & your spouse can’t agree – how do you find a solution to that? what if you’re not married – what legal rights do both of you have? do you care about paying estate taxes? do you even know if you might have to? are there other legal documents (perhaps more urgently important than a will, which only comes into effect after you’re dead) included (medical directives, powers of attorney, guardianship for minors etc.), what if you’re pregnant and incapacitated? will you ever hear from your lawyer again? what if your circumstances change (they will)? what if the laws change (they will)? how will you be notified & know to make changes? where will you store all your documents & how? how will you notify and explain all of this to the people you want to take care of you? are there things you really want to say to the people you love or tough explanations you need to make & if so, is your lawyer going to show you how and help you do that? What everyone really needs is an estate plan, which includes a Will that may or may not be simple, depending on all the circumstances involved. For more info. about all this you might be interested to read some of the materials on my website here: http://www.dgvelaw.com/e-courses.html And fortunately in this area there are a lot of lawyers so it becomes a matter of finding the right combination of skills, experience, and “fit” between you and your lawyer (like you would in seeking a doctor for ongoing consultation and care). Good luck!”

Astrid Is Doing Remarkably Well!


As most of you know by now, DGVE law‘s Client Liaison and Paralegal, Astrid A. Muhammad, had brain surgery at the end of August to remove a benign but invasive brain tumor.  Within days she was texting me to check on clients and firm matters!  It’s been just over a month and already she cannot lie idle, so Astrid is back to work part time, helping keep me and your matters on track.

For those of you who don’t know, Astrid and I met in high school, lost touch for about 15 years, then reconnected through the positive wonders of Facebook.  Serendipity brought us back together in 2009 when Astrid became the first additional member of the DGVE law Team.  In the 5 years since she has become not only my right arm, but also a very dear friend. Astrid is the type of person that inspires you to be your best self.

Astrid, her family, and I have felt and been uplifted by and are so grateful for your expressions of sympathy, your kind wishes, and your encouragement over the past few exceptionally challenging months.  She still has a considerable amount of recovery road left to travel, including relearning how to walk without a cane, regain full hearing, and lose the facial paralysis she has suffered as a result of all this, but she is confident that she will be back teaching Zumba and running marathons as soon as humanly possible.  With the positive and inspirational attitude Astrid has maintained throughout I have no doubt she will.

Meanwhile, so many of you have asked me how you could help. Astrid’s husband and two young children and both sides of their families have helped as much as possible.  Her husband’s family is here on the South Shore (feel free to lobby hard for them to move back here!) and her mother is down in Florida.  Though we can’t easily deliver meals for Astrid and her family or help with rides for the kids to and from their after school activities from here, we can help make things a little easier for them despite the miles. After much trial and error, this is what I’ve struck on as the best way to help: https://www.youcaring.com/astrid 


Thanks so much in advance.  As we so often comment to one another, we have the best friends and clients!

Sincerely,

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“it’s not about what you have, it’s about how much you care"

October 20-26, 2014 is 
National Estate Planning Awareness Week

Attorney Danielle G. Van Ess of the family-friendly, Hingham, Massachusetts law firm DGVE law, LLC wants to help you “protect your family, yourself, and your stuff.” She explains, “it’s not about what you have, it’s about how much you care. You care about who makes your medical decisions for you. You care who takes care of your children. You care about preserving whatever you have to use throughout your lifetime. You care about what you leave behind to whom, how, and when.”


If your children are minors you worry about who would raise them into adulthood. If your child just became a legal adult, you worry that, without his or her own basic estate plan in place, you lack access to financial and medical information to help him or her. If you have a child with special needs you worry about who would know everything you do about your child and how to ensure your child’s needs are always well met. If you have an adult child with a history of less than stellar financial management skills, addiction, gambling, or who may be divorcing, you worry about lost assets.

 More people are sued than ever today. We know most doctors will be sued sometime in their careers, but increasingly so will financial, accounting, real estate, and IT professionals. Car accidents, slip-and-falls, and accidents involving other people’s children are all real threats. The time to protect your assets from possible lawsuits is before you think you might be sued, before it is too late, and the way you try to protect your assets determines your likelihood of prevailing. Some DIY efforts, such as titling assets in your spouse’s name or establishing a family LLC or LLP without ensuring it owns the assets nor maintaining required formalities just provide false confidence and will likely fail to provide asset protection.


You may worry about how to pass significant resources to your loved ones without causing unintended consequences such as disrupting family harmony. Your estate planning attorney can help you design a plan so each family member can enjoy your cherished vacation home without disagreements far into the future. If you have always been charitably inclined, you can plan to support charities dear to your heart while also ensuring your loved ones are well provisioned. If you have a trusted financial advisor and CPA, your lawyer can and should work together with them as a team on your behalf to help you make your dreams for the future come true. Or you may worry about having sufficient resources to support yourself through retirement, possible long term medical expenses, remaining in your home as long as possible, and preserving your hard-earned resources for your loved ones. While you may not feel like you have enough to worry about estate taxes, you just might and perhaps ironically the less you have the more important it may be to preserve it to protect those you love.

Despite all these important reasons to meet with an experienced estate planning lawyer to learn how the law views your family or financial circumstances, whether your current plan is likely to achieve your goals, and what your options really are, most Americans mistakenly believe they do not need even a simple Will. Far too many Americans have stale, old estate plans that no longer reflect their current personal circumstances, especially given recent sweeping changes in the law.

In 2008 Congress passed a resolutionproclaiming the third week of every October as National Estate Planning Awareness Week noting, “Many Americans are unaware that a lack of estate planning and financial illiteracy may cause their assets to be disposed of to unintended parties by default through the complex process of probate.” With a comprehensive estate plan and financial roadmap for success, Van Ess says, “you can control your own assets during your lifetime, designate the people you want to care for you and provide for your loved ones if you’re ever incapacitated, and make sure that after your death you leave what you want to whomever you want how and when you want, all while ensuring there are more assets left rather than wasted on unnecessary expenses.”


Because there is so much more to an estate plan than just filling in forms, you need to find a qualified lawyer to assist you. Van Ess is passionate about educating and empowering her clients. Says Van Ess, “Just as we as patients seek the right bedside manner in our doctors, we need to find the right deskside manner in our lawyers. Once we find that lawyer we can say with confidence ‘I want to talk with my lawyer’ and it takes away so much unnecessary worry, replacing it with true peace of mind and comfort of heart.”


About Attorney Danielle G. Van Ess and DGVE law®
Raised on the North Shore in Swampscott, Massachusetts, Van Ess graduated with honors from the George Washington University in Washington, DC then met her husband, Chad Van Ess, Senior Counsel for the Acushnet Company, comprised of the Titleist and Footjoy golf brands, in 1998 as classmates at Boston University School of Law. Danielle “got her passport stamped” and moved with Chad to Hingham on the South Shore in 2006 where they laid down firm roots and are raising their four daughters, ages 1 through 9. Danielle established her law firm, DGVE law, LLC in their family home on East Street on September 1, 2008. For over six years now DGVE law® has been proudly “helping people add to, protect, and move their families”® by providing high quality professional legal services in the areas of adoption, estate planning, and residential real estate. For the right, truly passionate entrepreneurs, DGVE law® is also “helping you build, grow, and nurture your business.”
       
For more information, please visit: www.dgvelaw.com, like us on Facebook, or call: 781-740-0848.

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Listen to Your Mother, Boston

As a mother of 4 little girls ranging in age from baby to elementary school, Attorney-Mama Danielle G. Van Ess will be the first to tell it like it is:  

Motherhood is NOT for the faint of heart.
That’s why DGVE law®  is proud to sponsor Boston’s performance of Listen to Your Mother “LTYM” 2014, a series of live staged readings in 32 cities nationwide in celebration of Mother’s Day, “giving motherhood a microphone”. 
Listen to “live readings by local writers on the beauty, the beast, and the barely-rested of motherhood, in celebration of Mother’s Day.” 
10% of proceeds go to local charity for women & girls.

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Time for “The Talk”

   

The idea of confronting our parents’ mortality is indeed difficult, but this is a conversation (or series of conversations) that is crucial to you and your family’s well-being.  We are so used to being cared for by our parents that the transition to becoming their caregiver often sneaks up on us.  Preparing yourself ahead of time may ease the anxiety this transition can invoke.  That being said, remember that your parents may not want to be reminded of their mortality either… tact is necessary!
Top 5 ways NOT to talk to your parents about Estate Planning
1.        “Come on; let us see your will so we can establish once and for all who your favorite is!” 
While this may be gratifying to some, writing a will is an incredibly difficult process, imagine surveying all that you have acquired over your lifetime and then trying to determine what is fair, who is most likely to find value in what is in part, your legacy.  Be sensitive.  The larger issue is ensuring that a will exist, its location is known, and that any necessary updates are made.  When a parent dies without a will, the estate is divided in probate in court, and a judge, not your parent, decides who gets what.  And while this may be satisfying (Yes! You don’t have to take your mom’s Spoons from Around the World Collection!), the financial costs and potential trauma it can cause within the family is not worth it.  So, don’t ask them to choose favorites (you know it’s you anyway) but do ask if one exists.  Remind your parents that it is not about who gets what, you just want to ensure their wishes are followed.
2.       “This is the third time you’ve “lost” your keys, have you decided who is going to make your decisions for you when you get too senile to do it yourself?”
Frankly, no one wants to imagine their parents incapacitated, but should this occur, your parents need to designate someone to act as power of attorney.  Without this designation, a judge will decide, which can once again lead to costly court fees and family trauma.  This is also a good time to express if you have resignations about fulfilling this role yourself.  The person named to this role is given the ability to make legal and financial decisions should your parent be unable to.  
3.       “You’re looking a little… ‘tired’ lately, what is the status of your advance health care directives?”
Once again, no one wants to be reminded of their own mortality, but the best time to make these decisions is before someone becomes ill.  Advance health care directives include a living will, a health proxy, and a HIPPA.  Having clear, written instructions created while healthy, ensures that the emotions involved in dealing with illness do not impact decisions.  Without these instructions, heartbreak and even lawsuits could ensue. 

    4. “We were hoping to retire early, what are your plans for assisted living? We’d love to move in here.”  For the record, a friend of mine’s brother-in-law actually said something like this to his parents; it did not go over well.  The real question here is if your parents have made plans to cover the cost of long-term care.  Most long-term care homes are not covered by Medicare, and can be enormously expensive.  Long-term care insurance is something aging parents need to consider.  Help them (and your future self) by doing the research with them.

5.       And last, and probably the worst of all, what not to say to your parents when discussing estate planning, “I’m so tired of being broke all the time!  On a totally unrelated subject, have you named an authorized user on your financial accounts?”
Yikes!  This is an important issue, because should the account holder become incompetent or die, gaining access to funds can be insanely difficult.  To avoid yet another costly court battle, encourage your parents to name a trusted family member as co-owner of investments and accounts.  Again, if this is a role you are not willing to fulfill, now is the time to speak up.
While I joke, it is vital for your family to fully understand where your  parents are in the estate planning process.   They spent years investing in your well-being and future, an uncomfortable conversation (or two, or three) is the least you can do to invest in theirs.

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