Talking with a parent about estate planning is never easy. Here are several conversation starters that can help adult children and their parents plan.

As of 2016, the number of Americans above 65 years old now numbers 50 million1 and is expected to climb significantly as Baby Boomers retire over the next two decades. Even with this “graying of America,” a recent survey showed that only 42% of adult Americans have any kind of estate planning documents at all2, putting at risk the smooth transfer of hard-earned wealth from one generation to another.

Often the issue is simply a difficulty starting a conversation about estate planning. Talking with a parent about sensitive topics like incapacity or end-of-life issues is never easy. But adults with aging parents can open the lines of communication about the family’s financial future and the need to have a plan. Here are four questions to ask:

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1. Have you spoken with a lawyer about an estate plan?

Your parents may not want to face the possibility of getting sick, having to give up control over their lives, or even a life-ending illness. Parents can also find it awkward to discuss their money. A recent survey showed 25% of respondents said they hadn’t discussed estate planning because they don’t like thinking about their own death3. In a different survey, 47% of respondents said “I just haven’t gotten around to it” which may indicate procrastination on a difficult matter4. In a similar manner, adult children, not wanting to appear greedy and focused on themselves, procrastinate as well.

The fact is, it’s emotional for everyone. But it is important for both parent and child to understand the need to plan for a smooth transfer of wealth within the family. An estate plan takes into consideration current tax laws and can help your parents maintain control of their money until they no longer can. 

Often the hardest part of estate planning is issue is simply getting the conversation started.

2. Have you drawn up any paperwork so you’re prepared in case of illness or incapacity?

Your parents' ability to handle future financial and medical matters may deteriorate. It is crucial that they identify people they trust now, while they are still able, to make decisions for them in the event of incapacity. Now is the time to make sure they’ve done so, and to be involved in the decision-making to the degree everyone is comfortable.

Also, how do they feel about being cared for should they need it? Some parents equate having their children care for them as being a burden on their kids. Think about whether you agree with their notion of the future and what you are willing to take on. You can help them visualize the future and what they want so you can help.

Finally, this article provides detailed steps to help ensure your parents have plans in place should they become incapacitated. 

3. What are your priorities for the future use of your money? What causes are important to you?

It’s important to explain that estate planning covers a wide variety of issues including philanthropy. Find out if they have explored gifting strategies to efficiently pass on family wealth. Another question might be about contributing to family educational needs, perhaps for their grandchildren.

Examine what they care deeply about and how your values are aligned. What are their charitable goals? Depending on your family’s wealth levels, you can define family investment and financial goals and objectives and even a philanthropic policy to direct wealth toward making positive social or environmental change.

4. Which other family members should be involved in the planning process?

When thinking about estate planning and the drafting of wills, trusts and the division of assets, a family tree chart can help you build a solid estate plan—particularly in large families. Creating a family tree with your parents and siblings will not only allow you to visualize your family hierarchy, but better understand your parents’ relationships and gain knowledge about all of your relatives. A set plan may  help avert conflicts between siblings in the future, as opinions will likely differ on what is best for mom or dad, or how their assets should be divided.

Helping prepare parents for important financial matters can be a complex and sometimes emotional process. Your Morgan Stanley Financial Advisor can help further explain all of the steps you should be taking. Talk with your Morgan Stanley Financial Advisor today or find one near you using the locator below.