Thunder Bay wills and estates lawyer Rene Larson says discussing estate matters with an aging family member isn’t easy, but it’s a vital conversation.
Larson, principal of Larson Lawyers Professional Corporation, says there are constructive ways to broach the subject with elderly parents or grandparents.
“A good way to start is by talking about what would happen with their remains or assets after they die,” he tells AdvocateDaily.com.
Simply asking the question about their preference over a burial or cremation can lay the foundation for a more detailed discussion, Larson says.
“It seems to open up a whole field of opportunity because it leads into everything,” he says.
Another key question is to ask who will be the executor of the estate. If there isn’t one, Larson says the elderly family member might share their thoughts about what should happen after they pass.
“Perhaps they’ve made an inventory or list of their assets, including instructions on where to find all the necessary documents,” he says. “That opens up the possibility that there is no plan and it’s something they’ve been intending to do but just haven’t got around to it. The essence of estate planning is to make a list and checking off the to-do items one-by-one.
“I often say to my clients: ‘Over the next 12 months, gather all the things that are going to come in the mail or email about your assets,’” including where they are, names of financial institutions and any account numbers and passwords.
“Take those individual sheets and put them in an envelope or a binder and collect them for a year.”
Then the information can be organized to include an index and tabs, Larson says.
“And lo and behold, your estate plan is well underway.”
Larson says the funeral of a friend or a loved one will often get people thinking about the fact they don’t have an estate plan in place.
There are a few options for those who haven’t yet crafted a will. The absence of a will, he points out, results in the delay of the administration of the estate because a court will have to appoint someone as the estate trustee, which can add costs and take time.
Larson’s firm will occasionally host seminars on wills, estates and powers of attorney, which provide a good opportunity for those elderly family members to get an idea on how to set up a plan and ask questions, “without formally retaining the lawyer to prepare documents.”
A trusted family member might bring handouts or books on the issue to the aging parent or point them to articles to prompt the discussion, he says.
For those who want to discuss estate planning, Larson will travel to where the client is to make it easier for them.
“We do a great deal of house calls in our firm for estate planning,” he says. “We recognize some people have difficulty getting to our office” or co-ordinating an appointment time with their spouse or partner during regular office hours.
“You learn more about your client by visiting them at their home, by meeting family members and seeing their assets. It really helps the process.”
In some cases, people leave the estate talk to the very end and Larson finds himself at a nursing home or hospital where he takes instructions for the client’s will and powers of attorney.
It’s always important to ensure no one is unduly influencing the elderly person in order to get preferential treatment as a beneficiary, he says.
“In those scenarios, every lawyer will separate a potential beneficiary from the parent or grandparent during the interview process for making the will to avoid a later challenge of the will on the basis of undue influence,” Larson says.