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Ask PALUMBO LAW: My Parents Haven’t Done Any Estate Planning. What Should They Do?

Estate planning is a critical aspect of securing your family’s future and ensuring your assets are distributed according to your wishes. Yet, many individuals, including our parents, often delay or neglect estate planning altogether. If your parents haven’t started their estate planning journey, it’s time to take action and guide them through the process. Here are answers to some common questions on how to encourage your parents to start their estate planning journey.

Q: What is an Estate Plan, and why is it important?

An Estate Plan is a set of legal documents that specify how a person’s assets will be distributed after their death and also indicates who is in charge of making decisions during the life of and after the death of a person. Having an Estate Plan in place is important because it ensures that your parents’ wishes are carried out during their life and after death. It also helps minimize estate taxes, protect assets, and avoid conflict among family members. 

Without an Estate Plan in place, you may need to seek guardianship through the Court over your parents should they ever reach a point where they cannot make decisions anymore. If a parent passes away without an Estate Plan, then assets will be distributed according to the intestacy laws of the State in which they live in, rather than how your parents would want them to be distributed. A well-written Estate Plan provides guidance for what to do in the event that a person becomes incapacitated or unable to make decisions on their own behalf, and provides direction for what to do if they pass away.

Q: My parents haven’t done any estate planning. How can I approach this topic with them without causing friction?

It’s essential to approach this conversation with sensitivity and empathy. Discussing the management of assets and eventual distribution of assets can be a difficult subject for some people to talk about, or even consider. Start by expressing your concern for their well-being and the well-being of the family. Mention that you want to ensure their wishes are respected and that their legacy is protected. Then, gently approach the topic of reaching out to a lawyer so that they can get more information and explanation on the subject to determine what kind of Estate Plan may be best for your parents.

Q: What documents are typically part of an estate plan?

Estate Plans often include:

  • Last Will and Testament – This legal document outlines how a person wants their assets distributed, names an Executor (a person in charge of carrying out the Will), and may designate guardians for minor children.
  • Living Will – This legal document specifies a person’s preference for medical treatment in case they cannot communicate their wishes.
  • Financial Power of Attorney – This legal document gives a person the legal authority to make financial decisions on another person’s behalf if they become incapacitated or unable to make decisions for themselves.
  • Medical Power of Attorney – This legal document designates a person to make medical decisions on another person’s behalf if they become incapacitated or unable to make decisions for themselves.
  • Revocable Living Trust – This legal document can be used to avoid probate court, protect assets, and can help distribute assets to beneficiaries according to a person’s wishes. A Revocable Living Trust differs from a Last Will and Testament because it offers more protection of your assets by avoiding probate court, and you can specify how and when a particular beneficiary may receive their distribution. 

Q: What steps can children take to help their parents get started with estate planning?

  1. Educate Yourself – Learn about estate planning, so you can have an informed conversation with your parents.
  2. Initiate the Conversation – Choose a suitable time and place to discuss the topic. Make it clear that you’re looking out for their best interests.
  3. Recommend a Trusted Estate Planning Attorney – Suggest that they consult with an experienced estate planning attorney, like those at PALUMBO LAW, who can guide them through the process.
  4. Offer Assistance –  Offer to help gather financial information, real estate documents, or any other paperwork pertaining to their assets. If your parents are comfortable, you may want to offerto accompany them to meetings with the attorney so that the family is all on the same page.
  5. Respect Their Decisions –  Understand that your parents may have their reasons for procrastinating or specific wishes for how they want to handle these types of matters. Respect their choices, but also gently express the importance of planning ahead so that you can also respect their choices in the future.

Q: Are there any consequences to not having an estate plan in place?

Yes, there can be significant consequences, such as:

  • Probate Costs – Without a plan, their assets may go through probate court, which can be an expensive and time-consuming process.
  • Family Conflicts – Lack of clarity can lead to disputes amongst family members over asset distribution.
  • Inefficient Asset Distribution – Without an Estate Plan, your parent’s assets may not go to the intended beneficiaries or charitable organizations.
  • Tax Implications – Failure to plan can result in higher estate taxes.

Q: Can estate plans be updated or changed?

Absolutely. Estate plans should be reviewed periodically, especially after significant life events like marriages, divorces, births, or deaths. An experienced estate planning attorney can help make necessary updates.

Encouraging your parents to start their estate planning journey is an act of love and responsibility. Approach the conversation with care, provide information and support, and recommend consulting with a knowledgeable and experienced estate planning attorney. 

It’s never too early to start planning, but it can quickly become too late. Help your parents take this important step toward securing their future and the future of your family.

PALUMBO LAW Helps Those in Rhode Island with their Estate Planning Needs

At PALUMBO LAW, our knowledgeable Rhode Island Estate Planning attorneys understand Rhode Island estate planning laws and will work strategically to help our clients achieve their goals and desires. If you are in need of a comprehensive estate plan or any associated documents, we can help. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation, call us today!