A Patient Advocate's View

How to get families to talk about estate planning issues

  • 162f4b4f0a8e1d7bf61355795d29a751Carol Marak, Aging Advocate, Editor at, and Columnist. She earned a B.S. in Social Services and a Certificate in the Fundamentals of Gerontology from the University of California Davis, School of Gerontology. Carol is an active member of the American Society on Aging. She publishes aging-related news in the Huffington Post,, Lifehack, ASAging, Love to Know, BlogHer, and SheKnows,, and

    ​Sharing my personal experience and challenges about my family members’ estates and advance directives is the most efficient way to start the conversation. It illustrates that it’s a real issue. I try to de-stigmatize the topic by taking a matter-of-fact approach and providing practical tips, as I did in my book “Juggling Life, Work, and Caregiving. Amy Goyer, Amy Goyer Consultant.

  • Ask: if they’ve had to make life altering decisions for one who is unable to make decisions himself? Who would so this for you; would he know how to based on your expressed wishes? It’s the greatest love letter written to one’s family. Don’t require your family to handle your affairs without any guidance. Let them know how to conclude the legacy story of your life. Rhonda Caudell, Endless Legacy.
  • Use stories: When folks don’t know how to begin sharing a situation on TV or what happened to a neighbor/co-worker, that exposes vulnerability. It sets up the question that enables the conversation. Everyone loves a good plight-story: how others did it, or what they encountered. Tragedy or Triumph, we weigh them. Stories both teach and compel us to turn inward toward our planning. Nancy Ruffner, Navigate NC.

Offer education

  • Most consumers, don’t understand “The Modern Estate Plan” as the threshold for estate taxes is more than $10M for a couple. We need to explain better “property or estate erosion” due to potential healthcare costs which have no minimum threshold. Effectively, this stealth estate tax needs to be addressed, and most advisors fail to help clients understand the impact of healthcare in retirement and LTC planning. Mike Padawer, INERTIA Advisor Services.
  • It’s important to educate clients about all the consequences if they neglect having an estate plan. A primary goal is to avoid probate court. Estate planning enables the client to consider who is most appropriate to handle medical and financial decisions should they become incapacitated. We also provide advice on techniques that can be used to benefit a client’s intended beneficiaries. Ron Webb, Peck Ritchey, LLC.
  • Use TV shows, movies, articles in the paper and experiences of friends and relations to bring up the subject. Play the “what if” game–what if you were hit by a bus and broke your right arm and couldn’t write a check–how would your bills be paid? What if you were in a coma–what would you want me to do to care for you? Let’s all fill out our forms together. Donna Schempp, Family Caregiver Alliance.
  • Let’s face it. Money and death are not the easiest discussions and deserves the greatest level of sensitivity. Depending upon the person, it may be simpler to provide a few books or resources to review. Other times, you can refer them to a specialist or send them documents to fill out directly. Sites like have updated materials to make it easier. Michelle Jeong at LifeAssist.


Use assessments and tools

  • I use an assessment form that asks multiple choice questions. The answers tell me if a person is prepared, or needs assistance to make them or needs help from another person to make decisions for them. I deliver support via personal interviews, in family group settings, and in larger audiences. Caryn Isaacs,
  • I discuss EOL issues through The Conversation Project’s free tools. ( TCP’s Starter Kit is an easy, painless way to open the door about EOL. It is the step before setting up advance directives and thinking about medical interventions and talking with a lawyer. The approach makes you think about what is important to you at the end of life in broad terms. Laurie Miller, AppleCareandCompanion.
  • It is part of our care management assessment process and ongoing work with every client. Community education is also important to create awareness and conversation. So far this year, our owner Elder Law Attorney Linda Chamberlain has talked about “Creating an Exit Strategy” and “The Legal Docs You Must Have” in monthly workshops. Shannon Martin, Aging Wisely

April 6, 2016 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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