If you are a baby boomer – born between 1946 and 1963 – and your parents are still alive, you may want to talk to them about an important subject: their plans for leaving a legacy. Their thoughts on the subject might vary from yours, so, to avoid misunderstandings that could lead to hurt feelings – and financial problems – you will want to make sure now that you are all “reading from the same script.”
Of course, you may not be eagerly anticipating such a conversation. If so, you are not alone. Your fellow baby boomers and their parents are not doing a good job discussing inheritances and other issues related to “legacies.” In fact, fewer than one in three families have actually had a meaningful discussion on these matters, according to a study by Allianz Life Insurance Co.
Once you have this conversation, you may be surprised at how different your parents’ attitudes are from yours. Consider this: Nearly 40 percent of the elder generation says it is very important to pass financial assets or real estate to their children, but only 10 percent of baby boomers feel the same, according to the Allianz study. So it’s entirely possible that your parents own some assets that they want you to have – and you might not even know about them.
And it is not “greedy” for you to inquire about these assets. In the first place, your parents may feel strongly about leaving them to you. But just as importantly, if your parents have not done proper estate planning, their assets may not be distributed as they had intended. And unexpected inheritances may also result in unexpected tax burdens for the recipients.
Consequently, you may want to encourage your parents to work with an estate-planning professional to develop appropriate legal documents, including the following:
• Will – If your parents die intestate – without a will – their assets might be distributed by a court.
This could lead to a great deal of problems within your family.
• Living Trust – Even if your parents have a will, their assets may have to pass through probate which can be time-consuming and expensive. But with a properly established living trust, their assets can pass directly to their beneficiaries, without court interference, legal fees, lengthy delays and public disclosure.
• Durable General Power of Attorney – This document allows your parents to appoint another person to conduct their business affairs if they become physically or mentally incapacitated.
In addition, you will want to look over the beneficiary designations on your parents’ life insurance contracts and qualified plans, such as 401(k)s and IRAs. It’s especially important to update these designations if remarriages and stepchildren are part of your family picture.
Of course, it’s not easy to manage the estate-planning process. So, in addition to working with an attorney, you and your parents may well want to consult with a tax advisor to make sure everyone’s interests are protected.
Do whatever you can to help your parents leave the legacies they desire. You’ll be doing them a great service – and you could be taking a large burden off their minds.