The estate planning process usually includes provisions for your spouse, children, grandchildren, and possibly future generations. However, parents and in-laws often are overlooked despite their possible need for your financial assistance.
How can you best handle the financial affairs of parents in the later stages of life? Incorporate their needs into your own estate plan while tweaking, when necessary, the arrangements they’ve already made. Here are five critical steps:
Open the lines of communication. Before going any further, have an honest discussion with your elderly relatives, as well as other family members who may be involved, such as your siblings. Make sure you understand your parents’ wishes and explain the objectives you hope to accomplish. Understandably, they may be hesitant or too proud to accept your help or provide information, so some arm twisting may be required.
Identify key contacts. Just like you’ve done for yourself, compile the names and addresses of professionals important to your parents’ finances and medical conditions. These may include stockbrokers, financial advisors, attorneys, CPAs, insurance agents, and physicians.
List and value their assets. If you’re going to be able to manage the financial affairs of your parents, having knowledge of their assets is vital. It would be wise to keep a list of their investment holdings, IRA and retirement plan accounts, and life insurance policies, including current balances and account numbers. Be sure to add in projections for Social Security benefits. When all is said and done, don’t be surprised if their net worth is higher or lower than what you (or they) initially thought. You can use this information to formulate the appropriate estate planning techniques.
Execute documents. The next step is to develop a plan incorporating several legal documents. If your parents have already created one or more of these documents, they may need to be revised or coordinated with new ones. Some elements commonly included in an estate plan are:
- Wills. Your parents’ wills control the disposition of their possessions, such as cars and jewelry, and tie up other loose ends. (Of course, jointly owned property with rights of survivorship automatically passes to the survivor). Notably, a will also establishes the executor of your parents’ estates. If you’re the one providing financial assistance, you’re probably the optimal choice.
- Living trusts. A living trust can supplement a will by providing for the disposition of selected assets. Unlike a will, a living trust doesn’t have to go through probate, so this might save time and money, while avoiding public disclosure.
- Powers of attorney. This document authorizes someone to legally act on behalf of another person. With a durable power of attorney, the most common version, the authorization continues after the person is disabled. This enables you to better handle your parents’ affairs.
- Living wills or advance medical directives. These documents provide guidance for end-of-life decisions. Make sure that your parents’ physicians have copies so they can act according to your parents’ wishes.
Make monetary gifts. If you decide the best approach for helping your parents is to give them monetary gifts, it’s relatively easy to avoid gift tax liability. Under the annual gift tax exclusion, you can give each recipient up to $18,000 in 2024 without paying any gift tax. Any excess may be sheltered by the generous $13.61 million gift and estate tax exemption amount in 2024. Contact us with any questions.