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Asset Management: How to Talk to Family About Estate Planning

As we get older, it becomes more important to have all our affairs in order in case something happens. These tips can help you find ways to talk to your adult children or parents about this delicate topic.

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Aging is a daunting process. “Thinking about losing your independence can be very scary,” says Karen Nelson, chief of social work at the Ottawa Hospital. While they aren’t easy topics to broach, setting up a power of attorney, updating your will and laying out a detailed estate plan when you’re still in good health can ensure someone will carry out your wishes when you’re no longer able to. Whether you’re looking to initiate the discussion with a parent for the first time or clarify your wishes to your grown-up child, these tips will help that crucial conversation go more smoothly.

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When Speaking to a Parent: Use an Example

If someone you know or have heard about has recently been hospitalized or suffered a traumatic event, consider easing into the discussion by bringing up their story. The next step: hypothesize about how your family would deal with a similar situation. “Talking about what everyone has in place avoids the conversation being framed around your parents’ demise,” says Charmaine Williams, associate dean in the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Social Work.

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When Speaking to a Parent: Clarify Your Motivations

Asking about what your parent has planned can give the impression that you’re digging for an inheritance. Instead, focus on understanding their wishes. Explain that planning helps ensure their possessions will be looked after to their specifications. “Try something like, ‘If we get this all in place, you won’t have to worry if something happens to you, because I’ll immediately be able to look after everything just the way you would want it looked after.'” Nelson says.

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When Speaking to a Parent: Be Patient

Play to your parent’s timeline by not rushing a decision. Unpacking the idea over a series of conversations before putting anything down on paper lets them know they’re in control of the process.

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When Speaking to a Child: Introduce the Idea Slowly

Avoid catching your offspring off guard by letting them know you’d like to discuss the topic on their next visit, and frame the conversation to focus on preventing future misunderstandings. Introducing the scenario as a far-off hypothetical can make the process less upsetting.

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When Speaking to a Child: Choose Wisely

Dividing power of attorney between two children can work for or against you: the likelihood of your finances being abused during a vulnerable time in your life will be mitigated, but decision making may stall if they disagree. Whatever your choice, let the rest of your family know so there are no surprises. Explaining the decision helps avoid hurt feelings.

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When Speaking to a Parent: Offer to Help

Setting up a power of attorney, new will or estate plan usually requires a lawyer, notary or financial specialist. Let your parent know that you’re willing to assist them through these processes to whatever degree they need or are comfortable accepting.

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When Speaking to a Child: Simplify the Job

“Think about all the different kinds of decisions that might have to be made for you, and document your specific choices,” says Krista James, national director of the Canadian Centre for Elder Law. If you’ll be travelling frequently in your retirement, try easing a child into the duties by granting them power of attorney to manage your affairs when you’re abroad.

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When Speaking to a Child: Educate Yourself

Study up on your province’s laws. Consider consulting a lawyer (or notary, in Quebec and British Columbia) and whoever manages your finances for advice on the best options. Then choose a family member you trust to act as your executor or to grant them power of attorney.