Having ‘The Talk’ with your ageing parents
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If you're a "Hub Organiser Woman", the central point around which the family turns, then you probably have tough decisions to make about ageing parents.
So have you had "The Talk" with your own parents? No, not that one about birds and bees, the one about what happens when they pass.
I have a new client who through the will, was appointed executor of her beloved father's estate three years ago. "Looking back," she says, "I know he wouldn't have wanted to leave a hornets' nest for me to clean up, yet implicitly we both believed that speaking about one's own mortality would somehow hasten it."
But talk we must. As Stuart Westgarth from the Law Society of NSW put it last year: "Dying without a will or having a badly prepared will can be a nightmare for those left behind and has the potential to tear families apart. Legal battles over wills and estates are no longer confined to celebrities or the super wealthy, particularly with the high rates of divorce and remarriage."
Getting the will in order is step one. I highly recommend you get it done properly by a family lawyer who can plan for the nuances and circumstances of your parent's (and your) situation.
Assuming there's a parental will in place, you're highly likely to find yourself as Executor – so it helps to know in advance what's involved.
"In general terms," states the Law Society, "an executor's duty is to take charge of the deceased's assets and property, see that the funeral and administration expenses as well as debts and taxes are paid and finally to distribute the assets to the beneficiaries in accordance with the will...."
They go on to explain that, "....you will have to begin by finding out and making a list of everything the deceased owned or was entitled to. The list could include a home, car, money, bank or building society accounts, furniture, household appliances, jewellery, shares and other investments, insurance policies, superannuation, and holiday pay from work.
Wait; imagine doing that last part whilst grieving, if the financial affairs are in a pickle? 'The Talk' also needs to cover these issues then:
- Are there tidy super/pension arrangements in place, do they have binding or non-binding beneficiary nominations? The nomination status affects how the assets are distributed either through the will or direct to the beneficiaries
- Are the tax affairs in order? No scary tax office surprises?
- Are legal documents stored in a known spot that you can access? If your parent is less than organized but you are, see if you can assist them with the tidying of affairs, or hire a professional to do so for you.
- Here's one that's tricky, are there any other children in the wings who may come forward and claim? This happened to a client recently where the deceased had an illegitimate child who came forward to claim and the ensuing legal wrangle has left the surviving parent homeless and in debt.
- There are plenty more factors to consider and for anything more than the simplest of estates, legal advice is highly recommended.
A reputable fee based financial planner will be able to assist with the tidying of affairs and work in tandem with a family lawyer to structure the estate effectively.
A skilled professional team can help to bridge that oh-so sensitive gap between parent and offspring and can explore the need for Powers of Attorney, Powers of Enduring Attorney and Guardianship for living care if required.
My client goes on to say, "If I had done either any or all of the forward planning necessary, then my last 3 years would have been a hell of a lot easier emotionally and financially. I just didn't have the guts, or the foresight to do it with my Dad for fear of offending him. I trusted that he had his affairs in order, and he probably thought that by simply having a badly written, two sentence will, he had." Yet she knows he would have done anything to avoid what has happened since he died, if he had known the heartache it would have caused his much loved daughter.
I encourage you to read up more about this topic, google is your friend, and make sure the information is relevant to the state in which you and your parent live, as there are subtle cross- border differences.
And do have "The Talk" for everyone's sake. It can save a truckload of heartache down the track whilst ensuring that your parent/s have their wishes met and really, that's all we can ask.