As people age, it’s critical for them to have important discussions to make sure wishes are met in their golden years.
In many families there is an unspoken culture of secrecy among generations, particularly about financial issues. Elder parents are reluctant to reveal details, and adult children may be embarrassed to ask. However, sharing this information and more is key, and an attorney can help facilitate the dialogue.
“As seniors age and need assistance from their children, it is important for them to know more than the parents may have shared,” explained Steven L. Friedman, Esq., Shareholder and Chair of Stark & Stark’s Trusts & Estates Group.
To be good financial stewards, children should be aware of their parents’ assets, liabilities, and recurring expenses. They should have account and contact information for all financial institutions and trusted financial advisors, as well as online passwords and the location of the safe deposit box key.
Financial philosophy makes a difference, too. “If your parents have strong feelings about investing — maybe they’re conservative and want to stay out of the stock market, for example — that’s worth knowing so you can honor their investment philosophy, even though it may be different from your own,” Friedman added.
He also notes children shouldn’t make assumptions when it comes to non-financial issues such as aging in place or senior living preferences, quality of life medical choices, and end-of-life decisions.
“We open and facilitate dialogue between parents and children,” he said. “We make the conversation positive, about empowering children to help their parents retain control of their life decisions.”
Aging parents can do themselves and their children a favor by having the discussion early, while they are of sound mind. Ideally, parents will reach out to an attorney and involve all children, not just the executor. An attorney will typically meet with the parent first to determine wishes and then facilitate a family dialogue.
“Sadly, there are often disputes between children, and parents are often blind to that danger,” Friedman said. “Having a candid and honest dialogue may help open the parents’ eyes and encourage them to take steps to avoid unnecessary litigation in the future.”
An attorney will not only discuss philosophy, finances, and health concerns but will also review documents and bring them up to date. Friedman emphasizes that although wills are important, powers of attorney and health care directives are even more so because they directly impact the quality of your life. A will only serves to direct the disposition of your assets after death.
“Legal documents and tax considerations are significant, but this process transcends all of that,” he said. “Much of what we discuss is practical advice for families who would otherwise be scrambling to deal with these issues only when a crisis arises. We are able to use our years of experience to listen and offer advice to help make the difficult times a little bit easier.”
Stark & Stark is a regional law firm with a national client base, with offices in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York.
Stark & Stark, 993 Lenox Drive, Building 2, Lawrenceville. 609-896-9060. 800-535-3425. Fax: 609-896-0629. www.stark-stark.com.