There comes a time when it becomes a good idea to start thinking about tidying up your life. I’m not taking about “Marie Kondo-ing” your home. No, I’m talking about putting things in order so that if you need help, people you trust can help you. I’m also talking about making sure those people have the right information, understand your wants and desires and, most of all, know your thoughts on death and dying.
While that may not seem like a fun conversation to have, it is nonetheless an important one. What follows are some thoughts about the things you should discuss with your children while you can, and what you can do to help prepare them for the possibility they may need to one-day step in and manage certain things for you.
The Financial Management Conversation
This conversation does not have to reveal every bit of information about your assets, but your children should know where you bank and who your financial advisor is, and have a general idea of the type of assets you hold. A simple spreadsheet or a written list of information will be very helpful.
The Estate Planning Conversation
Being able to locate copies of your estate planning documents, especially your power of attorney and health care directive, is very important. If you are going to give your kids a copy of any of your estate planning documents, these are the ones to give them. Florida law allows an electronic copy of these documents to suffice if needed. Sometimes clients tell me they don’t feel comfortable giving their children a power of attorney, since it becomes effective when signed. I tell them there’s an easy solution. Since I maintain an electronic copy in my files, I can send a named child a copy if my client requests it, or if the child contacts me to report the client has had a serious illness or accident. If you keep your documents or copies at home, leave instructions on where those are located. If they are in a safe deposit box, your child won’t be able to retrieve them unless his or her name is on the box’s entry card. That’s another time your attorney can provide an electronic copy, so make sure their contact information is with your documents.
The Wishes Regarding Burial or Cremation Conversation
This can be a difficult decision for a family to make when no clear instructions are left. Some families have strong feelings about burial or cremation, and if your wishes will conflict with those feelings, it's better to make your intentions clear. Often clients like to prepay final expenses and leave that information with the estate planning documents so children don’t have to make those decisions during a time of grief.
The Long Term Care Conversation
If the time comes when you can’t live alone, where would you prefer to live? Some clients have children who offer to let them live with them. Sometimes this is a great solution, but other times it may not be. Some families have very busy lives, leaving a parent living in the home lonely and isolated during work and school hours. Some parents just prefer to have their own space and don’t want to be around the hustle and bustle of a busy family. I’ve seen children surprised when mom or dad turned down their offer to move in, and also seen parents shocked when their children told them they didn’t like the idea of cohabiting.
It’s helpful if you express your thoughts early on before the necessity arises. Would you want to live at home with assistance, or would you prefer an active assisted-living community where you would live among peers?
The Health Care Conversation
Many of my clients involve their children in healthcare decisions long before they involve them in financial matters. Allowing children to have access to medical information can be very helpful, especially when you are considering a risky medical procedure and want a second opinion. Or maybe you want your child to have access to medical testing results so he or she can review them with you. Also, it’s important to keep an updated list of prescription medications, any specialists you see, and the dates of important medical procedures, in case you can’t provide this information during an emergency.
These conversations are important to have with whoever will be your decision maker: a child, a brother, sister, cousin, or close friend, who may need to step in to manage things for you in a time of accident or illness.
Below is a good article for general information about this topic:
The link below directs you to a downloadable brochure with charts you can fill in and update when necessary and keep with your estate planning documents:
If you find it hard to initiate these conversations with your adult children, you can always send them one of the articles above to start a dialogue. Or, do what I tell my clients to do when their children say they don’t want to talk about these things: tell them “My attorney said I have to do this because it’s the responsible thing to do.” That usually does the trick!
Author: Teresa K. Bowman, Of Counsel
1028 Lake Sumter Landing
The Villages, FL 32162