Are you caught between the needs of young children and elderly relatives like your parents? If so, you are part of the growing segment of the population known as the “sandwich generation.” In particular, it may be difficult to care for loved ones as they grow older and require more care. To compound the problems, elderly relatives may not have adequately addressed all of their estate planning needs.
The most practical approach is to set aside time for everyone involved—yourself, your spouse and any siblings you have—to discuss the main aspects. Be careful: This requires a frank-and-honest dialog about sensitive issues. What’s more, relatives may regard this as an intrusion. Emotions could even boil over, so it is imperative for cooler heads to prevail.
Following are several critical estate planning elements to consider.
Will: If a legally valid will has been devised, your relative’s assets will generally be distributed in the manner in which he or she wishes. Have the will reviewed periodically. Because an existing will could be outdated, it may need to be revised to reflect changes in personal circumstances or the applicable law.
Financial documents: Take an inventory of all the key documents pertaining to the relative’s financial affairs. This might include bank account records, life and disability income insurance policies, financial statements, retirement plan and IRA documents and so on. Make sure you assemble all the pertinent information—such as names of key contacts, their addresses and policy numbers—in a protected file. Print out a copy for the relative.
Investments: Similarly, you should create a clear picture of the relative’s investment portfolio. Assemble all the relevant information in one place. When possible, do not forget to include records showing the tax basis of securities that your relative acquired years ago. At the same time, reexamine his or her holdings in light of advancing age, economic conditions and risk tolerance.
Tax records: As with other financial and investment documents, you should have easy access to the tax records of relatives such as your parents or in-laws. For instance, do you do know where they keep copies of their personal returns for the last few years, business filings and other tax documents? Who has been preparing their tax returns? It can be helpful to bring these practitioners into the loop.
Health care: This can be a particularly touchy subject, so tread carefully. Establish guidelines in the event an elderly relative is disabled or suddenly loses a spouse. For instance, you should determine if there is a preference for home health care, a nursing home, a continuing-care retirement community or some other living arrangement with a family member. Even if the relative is currently in good health, it makes sense to investigate the possibilities. Finally, a relative may adopt a “living will” or other health care directive to address end-of-life decisions.
This is just a short list of topics to discuss. Other arrangements for affluent individuals, including trusts and sophisticated tax-favored accounts, may play a prominent role. When appropriate, seek guidance from your professional advisers.