Checking Your Parents’ Estates: Generational Attitudes on Sharing Info

September 20, 2010

This week, I want you to call your elderly parents, grandparents, relatives, etc., and make sure that their estate planning documents are definitely in place. Do it now while matters are relatively calm, because if you wait until something happens, anything out of order then will add to what will already be an emotional draining issue.

So stop reading right now, and add this to your “to do” list.

Welcome back. Your parents might resist sharing their information, and much of this perhaps comes from our diverging approaches to how we gather information. Here are three examples and how you can respond.

Wisdom: Years of Study vs. Encyclopedic Knowledge. Many of us believe that the internet is an example of the sum being greater than the whole of its parts, as this form of collective wisdom makes us exponentially wiser. However, the older generation, like their parents and grandparents, generally still relies on the benefits of their own experience and gained wisdom (the fools!), and may be suspicious of anyone assuming a level of expertise obtained too quickly.

If you ask your relatives to share their estate planning with you, be careful for resistance on the basis that they believe “everything is just fine” and that their experience tells them so. You might respond by saying that you are not trying to change or improve anything; you are merely trying to learn, prepare for the future, and understand what needs to be done for them and the family, which are things they have always raised you to do.

Gaining Knowledge: Patience vs. Instant Gratification. Because we can get our information very quickly nowadays, we seem to have a greater desire for instant gratification. On the other hand, your parents may rely more on patience and the process to get them where they need to go. For example, to find directions, we may use Mapquest or Google Maps, but they might rely on their knowledge exemplified by arguments such as “No computer can beat taking Route 23, turning right on Main Street and hitting the resulting flow of green lights if you drive at 27 MPH.”

Your parents may resist giving you information in favor of discussing it “at a better time”. You might respond that you are trying to find this information to coordinate other relatives, figure out the most appropriate local services, and to prepare for the future over a long period of time rather than quickly in case of an emergency.

Privacy: Hiding Skeletons or Protecting Families? It is also a prevalent belief of many parents that they are obligated to protect us (or even their spouses) from uncomfortable information or worry. This viewpoint directly opposes our present culture, where we vigorously seek the truth. For example, news stories have the greatest impact when involving some level of conflict, especially if it involves the revelation of some secret dealings or dalliances.

If your parents tell you that the information is private, then you must obviously respect that decision. However, you might tell them that openly involving their younger family representatives can be one of the best ways to preserve and help carry out the privacy they covet.

To conclude, the more you involve your siblings or other interested parties, and the more you show your parents the positive impact of your involvement, the easier it will become in later days for them to work with, and hopefully, rely on you.

 Checking Your Parents’ Estates: Generational Attitudes on Sharing Info


Scott R. Zucker, Esq. is the owner of The Zucker Law Firm PLLC, located just outside the Capital Beltway in Annandale, within five miles of the City of Fairfax, the county seat of beautiful Fairfax County, Virginia. The firm focuses mainly on estate planning services for Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania clientele, and seeks to do so in an affordable and approachable way. People interested in learning more can contact Scott by phone or email.

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