You’re a parent taking care of young kids and you’re also responsible to some extent for your own aging parents. Sound familiar? If so, you’re in what’s known as the “sandwich generation,” a group of adults pulled in both directions—physically, emotionally and financially—by their offspring and their own parents. While having conversations with your aging parents about serious topics such as estate planning is not fun or easy, these days it’s more important than ever to make sure your family has plans in place to avoid headaches down the road. Elizabeth Candido Petite, an attorney with Lindabury, McCormick, Estabrook & Cooper’s Wills, Trusts and Estates practice group in Westfield, says she sees her clients struggle to broach these delicate topics.
“A lot of adults are uncomfortable taking charge of their parents lives or saying, ‘Mom, you need a will,’” says Petite. The best way to approach the subject may be by using a family friend as an example to illustrate how the family may have to jump through hoops when an elderly parent gets sick and there’s no power of attorney in place, she says.
“Or just sit down and say, ‘Mom, I’m concerned. Do you have these documents? It’s going to help both of us in the long term.’”
KNOW WHERE TO START
While a will is important, the need for a power of attorney and healthcare advance directive is even more pressing, she says. “They authorize someone else to act during your life,” she says. “It’s common for adult children to take their parents to the doctor and need authorization to talk to the doctor and handle bill paying. If they don’t have power of attorney in a serious medical situation, the only way is to go to court and have a guardian appointed.” Laurie A. Hauptman, of Hauptman & Hauptman, an estate, elder and special needs attorney based in Livingston, says there’s a checklist of things adults can do to make sure everything is in place for their own parents.
QUALITY OF LIFE DECISIONS
“The first step is to discuss your parents’ finances,” says Hauptman. “What do they have in their names to pay for their current lifestyle or should the need arise, to pay for their care expenses, should they become unhealthy?”
“General durable powers of attorney should be prepared giving someone, often the adult children, access to their financial accounts so that financial transactions can take place should the need arise,” she says.
“Health care powers of attorney and living wills should be drafted to permit medical decision-making when appropriate and to express their wishes with regard to life sustaining treatment should there be no hope of recovery or regaining a meaningful quality of life,” says Hauptman.
“Wills should be reviewed and possibly updated to reflect tax planning if appropriate and current wishes with regard to probate asset distributions,” she adds. “Beneficiary designations should be reviewed and possibly updated to reflect wishes with regard to assets that pass outside of the will including life insurance policies, retirement accounts.”
HAVING THE UNCOMFORTABLE CONVERSATION
The coronavirus pandemic has made it even more important to address these issues sooner rather than later. “Since COVID, we believe more people understand the unpredictability of life and how vulnerable we really are if we don’t have the appropriate documents and plan in place,” Hauptman says.
If the idea of taking these steps with your own parents still seems uncomfortable, Petite says she finds it helpful for lawyers to talk to elder parents without their children present to make sure everything being talked about is what they really want. And while you may be tempted use an online planning service, Petite advises against it.
“There are two problems with the online services,” she says. “Sometimes they are perfectly fine for people, but the biggest problem is no one is helping execute the documents. Proper execution is critical. One client didn’t have the will notarized correctly. When you work with an attorney, they make sure things are signed properly. The other thing is having a third person who is not part of your family to bounce ideas off of can be useful. Clients find it very helpful to have someone removed from the family dynamic to give advice.”
Another important benefit that comes from these interactions is people in the sandwich generation realize they need plans in place for themselves, too.
Petite says: “Usually what happens is after we do things for their parents, a week or month later I get an email saying, ‘I don’t have a will and I should probably have one, too.’ Don’t forget about yourself.”