When parents talk with their kids at the dinner table, estate planning probably doesn’t come up. But considering we aren’t immortal, it should. It’s worth having age-appropriate conversations to introduce children to the idea of estate planning. As children grow older, parents can provide more specifics about their plans and eventually assist their children in developing their own plans as adults.
Run them through your estate plan
If you have an estate plan in place, consider running your children through it so they have an idea of what’s included in one. Camelia Ruffin , an estate planning attorney and founder of The Ruffin Firm in Douglasville, Georgia, suggests parents do a very basic outline, which includes telling children what each document is and what it’s used for.
Talking through your estate plan also gives your children a chance to know important information such as who you’ve chosen as estate executive or administrator — the person who manages your estate after you die — and who has power of attorney for financial and health care decisions. If your children will be executors, that’s more reason to talk them through the plan.
Parents with underage kids may want to share information about who will take care of them if something happens prematurely. Ruffin says children should know whom to turn to and what the next steps are so they’re prepared.
“Parents either get really sick or die and they still have teenagers who don’t know if it’s going to be a grandparent, uncle, godparent or a family friend that’s going to help guide them.” She adds, “It’s very important for parents to talk to kids about money management budgets, what is set aside for them, and how to make sure money lasts them as long as possible and not to run through it.”
Adult children should know where important estate documents are such as the original will, trust, power of attorney, health care directive, and list of accounts and login information.
Estate planning isn’t just financial, it can also be an emotional affair. Coming to terms with mortality as a child or parent can be challenging, but remember it’s a way to care for yourself and your loved ones, says Nataki Appolon, an estate planning and business attorney at Warren & Warren Appolon in Huntington, New York.
“Estate-planning is self-care. You don’t have all that anxiety around ‘God forbid something happens.’ ”
Explain the importance of an estate plan of their own
It’s easy for young adults to feel like they don’t need an estate plan. After all, they’re just beginning their lives as adults, so they may have few or no assets. However, Ruffin says parents could start talking to children about plans as young as 14. She adds that any adult in college and entering a career needs an estate plan.
“A lot of these kids are graduating from college or postgraduate programs getting large bonuses, so they need to be aware of where to place that money and how to protect it if they become ill or if they unfortunately die,” Ruffin says.
One way your children can protect these assets is by appointing a financial power of attorney . It’s a legal document that enables a trusted person to make financial decisions on your behalf.
Young adults could also benefit from having a durable power of attorney for health care, in case they need someone to make health care decisions on their behalf if they’re incapacitated.
“A lot of parents have difficulty helping their adult children who are 18 to 24 because they are adults and therefore you need legal authority to speak on their behalf or to even assist them with minor things,” Ruffin says.
She adds that some people don’t realize many of these estate planning documents can be more important when you’re alive than after your death. If your children are worried about the cost of putting together an estate plan, Ruffin says there are estate planning clinics that may do it for free. Also, some estate planning attorneys provide packages for young adults at a reduced cost.
Keep it simple
How you approach talking about estate planning with your child often depends on their age. No matter how old, start by keeping it simple. Appolon has started talking to her teenagers about estate planning to get them thinking about it for themselves.
“I don’t want to burden them with anything too heavy, too early,” she says. “It is overwhelming, but you just take it one step at a time.”