“Junior!” she exclaimed with a sharp tongue, as her son attempted to sneak a pre-dinner bite of the dessert she was making. She only called him “Junior” when she demanded his attention, for he wasn’t even technically a junior. And she had been doing this for over sixty years. Yes, this scene actually describes a true story of an 85-year-old mother scolding her 62-year-old son!
While the parent-child relationship does evolve over a lifetime, it does retain a certain character. Parents may continue to command a certain respect, and children often continue to honor that position of authority. However, in the world of estate planning, there may come a time where the children need to take a position of authority. It may come when the parents are still living, but it will definitely arrive after the parents have passed. And will those kids, the “juniors” of the world, be ready?
There are numerous stories of children who must literally wade through mountains of paperwork to locate that one important document, be it a car title, a house deed, or a Will. For a host of reasons, many families simply neglect to discuss legal or financial affairs while everyone is physically and mentally able to do so. And for our current generation of seniors, many simply are too private to feel it appropriate to discuss these affairs.
But when are the kids old enough to learn this information? Of course, that will be different with each family. There are also varying degrees to which each family will want to share information. For some, it may be enough to simply know where the “black box” of information is kept – one that holds a road map to all the legal and financial information. Other parents may choose to review the information with the children, providing them with copies of various legal documents and financial accounts and/or passwords to online data. Still, others may find it appropriate for children to actually meet with certain advisors or even hold positions of authority.
Whatever the level of information sharing, it is without question that the flow of information must begin at some time before incapacity or death. It presents a sometimes insurmountable challenge to a child to locate certain legal or financial data when they have no idea where to begin. And while “Junior” may still be sneaking treats from your kitchen, he may surprise you with mature appreciation for trusting him with the mere knowledge of your legal and financial affairs.
Jennifer R. Luitjens is Certified as an Elder Law Attorney (CELA) by the National Elder Law Foundation, a non-profit organization accredited by the ABA. She lives in Jericho and practices in South Burlington with the Jarrett Law Office. This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute comprehensive or specific legal advice. The author stresses the need to engage appropriate legal and financial professionals when devising your individual estate plan.