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Discussion with relatives important for estate plan

Because of the large number of older residents in Florida, estate planning issues are a major concern in the state. Communication with loved ones before they pass away is an important component of that planning process.

For example, when a 74-year-old woman died after a fall down her stairs, her children didn't know she had a mortgage on her home. The bank wouldn't disclose any information about the amount that needed to be paid on the mortgage without a death certificate, which was delayed due to uncertainty about the cause of the woman's death. Eventually, a loan modification package came to the woman's house, letting the heirs know that the mortgage was in default. Further, the children had to rummage through the house looking for important financial documents. The deceased woman's car insurance policy was found in her knitting bag.

For reasons such as those above, a care giving expert at the American Association of Retired People advises that everyone speak to their older relatives about estate plan matters. Among the things one should know is whether a will, powers of attorney, living will or healthcare proxy exist, whether there medical and/or life insurance coverage, and that there is a list of all financial accounts and the amounts therein. The expert suggests the best way to broach the subject is to use "I" phrases so as not to make the older person defensive.

There are ways to minimize the problems that inevitably arise after the death of a parent. A sound estate plan will ensure that distributing the assets can be done with a minimum of hassle. Instead of a will, some may wish to consider a living trust which helps avoid the time and expense of probate. In any case, people should discuss these issues with their parents and seek out information to ensure that all necessary documents are valid and enforceable.

Source:, "The talk you didn't have with your parents could cost you," June 30, 2013

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