Most people are at least a little afraid of talking to their parents about writing a will and/or advanced directive. But it’s really important.

I’ve seen people die without a will — and it always causes friction between the would-be heirs. I was appointed power of attorney for a woman who was estranged from her children for many years, and she never got around to signing a will. At the end of her life, the attorney had to post notices in the classified section of some newspapers to find her children. Eventually, they appeared. They hoped that there was going to be a lot of money to be had. Because this woman didn’t really have any money, we ended up selling her house and selling all her possessions to afford the nursing home where she lived out her life.

The children were looking for certain things that had been in the house, and we had to tell them they were all sold off before they showed up on the scene. This caused all kinds of legal questions, and it was as messy as it was expensive. 

In another case, a friend of mine’s mother passed away at 96, and she did not have a will in place. My friend was estranged from his sisters, and now all kinds of problems are popping up. Even worse, my friend thought that he was going to be getting a third of the estate — when instead, the statute-defined, default distribution will take place, and he’ll end up with no inheritance. 

As for choosing a time and place to have “the talk,” my advice would be to avoid doing it during the holidays. It seems, to me at least, that people settle into old roles when the family is all together. This could make things unnecessarily complicated.

We help facilitate “the talk” at JHA. Contact us for more information.