Guilt can be a nasty thing.
When I think of the word ‘guilt’ I automatically think ‘difficult’.
Mainly because I never get to eat chocolate chip cookies whenever I want to have one – difficult decisions, right?
We are going to talk a little bit about guilt today, specifically when it comes to helping your mom and dad with their estate planning. And, don’t get things confused – this feeling happens whether you are “big city” like Pittsburgh, or Erie, or Cranberry, or “small town” like New Castle or Neshannock.
I have had many, many families come to me for help. All of those problems, all of those issues, usually come from the intersection of love and crisis. Estate planning is like that.
“Guilt and estate planning?”
Estate planning, by its very definition, means to think about and lay out actions ahead of time. Estate planning looks at someone’s property, vehicles, money and more.
People don’t usually feel guilty about the planning involved. They feel guilty for another reason…
People feel guilty about becoming in charge of medical needs or finances or just as trustees of a trust for their parents. You love your mom and dad, right? And now they want to consider you being in charge of everything – before they die, when their health is in crisis and then afterwards.
THAT can be overwhelming!
A few years ago, I got to meet “Angie”. I’m going to change her name a bit and omit her last name. But, Angie is likely a very familiar member of the community to you. She lives around New Castle, and has always called Lawrence County home.
Angie’s family had some problems.
Specifically, Angie’s mom and dad were turning 70 and 73 soon. They were retired. They had a big home, cars, money… but no plans for what happens ‘next’.
The only thing I knew about their plans was that they wanted Angie to have everything and take care of everything. She was their only child, and they built this life to benefit themselves; and her.
But, here was the catch…
Angie wanted to keep putting things off because she felt bad about “taking everything from them”.
And that is where things really begin. Angie’s story and her situation might seem a bit like your’s. Or, you’ve heard about a situation just like her’s.
Today, we are going to look at Angie’s situation.
We are going to dig a little into those unique family dynamics that aren’t bad at all – they are based on love and trust. Even with that positive force in us, these situations can lead into some other paths that cause distress and problems.
But, I’m here to tell you – the guilt felt in planning is so much easier to deal with than the anger, sadness and despair after our loved ones die WITHOUT the plan.
Angie loves her parents, her parents love her… so what’s the problem?
I know, I know… I thought the same thing.
If everyone loves each other and trusts each other, what’s the problem?
Guilt is a truly crappy feeling. In some cases, guilt is thrown onto us. In other cases, we wear it like a finely made robe for ourselves. Guilt can lead to anger, fear and pain in general.
In the case of estate planning, guilt leads to inaction; and lack of planning.
In Angie’s case, she was scared. Her belief was that her parents would think she was being loving and kind because she was taking advantage of them.
While Angie was not as financially well-off as her mom and dad, she wasn’t poor either. And, there were family members who did seem to leech off of her parents’ love.
Angie didn’t want to be a leech to her parents. She didn’t even want to appear that way.
This fear, this guilt, led to Angie never really having those conversations with her parents about their assets, their home, their money. Instead, they all put it off.
Angie eventually turned to the internet. She found a template for a will and a template for a power of attorney. She filled everything in, and her mom and dad signed it all.
Done and done?
Well… not entirely.
We’ll come back to this, but here is a big tip…
A power of attorney is for one person. Likewise, a medical power of attorney and a financial power of attorney each cover different things.
Also a will involves the wishes of one person, for things after they die. These can align with someone else, but one will is for one person.
Until one day the doctor at Jameson Hospital said…
Everyone is healthy, until they aren’t, right?
I found out that the trigger for Angie coming to see me was that her mom had begun having issues. She went to the doctor, and surgery was an only option. I won’t get into too much of their family medical stuff, but it was cancer and it wasn’t a simple procedure.
While going through this, a lot of questions popped up for Angie, her mom and her dad…
- Does mom have a will?
- If something goes wrong, what does she want? (tube feeding, breathing, etc)
- What if mom needs long-term care; can you afford that?
- Is everything going to be ok?
These are all valid concerns.
As it turned out, neither of her parents really had the legal documents they needed. Yes, Angie had this DIY template of a solution, but it wasn’t anything more than a piece of paper and a list. Legally speaking, it wouldn’t have been able to carry any weight when the family needed it most.
Her parents were simply relying on their daughter and what they believed would happen to actually occur whenever the time came.
So, Angie called me.
After a long conversation, and a few tears, Angie started to understand the importance of both parents having wills, powers of attorney, healthcare plans and even a trust (more on this in a minute).
There was also one more thing we needed to address…
Angie still felt guilty. Deep down, she knew that her parents would want her to be in charge of everything, from the powers of attorney to their will to the trust.
It was upsetting her.
My next step?
I needed to meet her parents.
One simple question is all it takes!
I was very happy to meet Angie’s mom and dad. As it turns out, Angie’s mom was still involved with advising a successful business in the area. Her father had created and still helped to run a contracting firm outside of Erie.
Both of Angie’s parents were in good spirits, and seemed healthier than what I had heard. And, it was also very clear that the level of adoration and affection between the three was strong.
So, I asked a question…
“Why are you all feeling guilty over having all of your plans in place when it comes to your home, your cars, your businesses, your money?”
Silence. Just, crystal clear silence.
What neither realized, Angie nor her parents, was that they both felt guilty for different reasons. Unbeknownst to Angie, her parents felt guilty for wanting her to be in charge. But, Angie was the ONLY person they trusted enough to handle everything. And, her parents never knew that Angie felt guilty thinking that she was taking anything from them.
And all of this culminated in non-action. For all of these reasons, her parents had nothing prepared. Well, they did have that DIY paperwork mentioned earlier, but legally, those documents would’ve never have held up.
After a few more tears, and a lot of laughing about the silliness that had caused delays in really planning for everyone to be safe and secure, we got down to business. We squared away all of her parents’ wishes, their needs and even addressed some issues that they never thought of including the businesses involved, the home and mom’s current medical issues.
Now, Angie and her parents could see a lot clearer. Their future might have ups and downs, but for Angie’s parents, all of their wishes would be addressed, their needs met and their plans executed.
The sad truth of guilt, fear and not taking action
For Angie and her parents, they left my offices that day feeling a lot of that weight that they had been carrying left them. In fact, within a few weeks, when Angie’s parents received their documents, I got the extra bonus of a loving hug from both!
About a year later, Angie contacted me. I was hoping it was because of some great big plan that her mom wanted added to her will, or some fun piece of property that her parents needed a new trust to hold.
Instead, Angie let me know that her father had passed away from an undiagnosed heart issue. He passed peacefully, and without pain.
He was a good man.
And, with all of the planning the four of us had completed, his full wishes were met. Angie’s mom was protected, and Angie knew that she could focus on helping her mom.
If Angie and her parents let that guilt and that fear make the inaction ongoing any further, it could’ve led to more inaction.
Does that sound like you?
I know in my life there have been situations where I’ve procrastinated from fear. That inaction led to lost opportunities.
When it comes to estate planning, not taking action to get even the basics can be disastrous. Not having items like a last will and testament, like a medical power of attorney, like a financial power of attorney can all create a situation where everything is at risk.
The truth in the end?
If you do not have proper estate planning in place, you might be lucky to have Pennsylvania only take 6%-12% of your estate when you die and the rest goes to your loved ones. In many situations, especially where a nursing home or long-term care are involved, and Medicaid enters the picture, your house, your retirement account, your bank accounts and more can ALL be at risk.
Everything can be gone; unless you take action.
A final word on planning and guilt…
Guilt can be a real pain in the “you know what”. Guilt can lead to fear, to anger, to regret, to inaction.
Planning needs to happen. That action is a necessity, not an ‘extra’ that can be postponed for all time.
Planning doesn’t fix everything – we know that. When I perform any estate planning, we look at plan A, make plan B and plan C, and even put some steps in place to have plans D, E and even down to Z if necessary.
Planning does give everyone peace of mind. Planning can also remove that feeling of guilt and that fear that stops others from any planning, any thinking of planning for the future.
In Angie’s case, planning saved her own feelings, as well as anything financial for her mother and father. Just recently, I found out that her mother was dealing with some health issues. Even with that said, now, all of those wishes and needs that her mother had are met with the right will, well-worded and legal powers of attorney, and the right trust.
Oh, and the right person to be in charge of it all in Angie – a loving, caring and devoted daughter who just wanted what was best for her parents.
Angie’s case is not unique. I’ve dealt with many families whose children have these same feelings.
Letting fear and guilt take control will only do one thing – nothing. And that isn’t anyone’s goal in this life.
If you know someone like Angie, or maybe you might be feeling those same emotions, contact us at (724)60-ELDER today to start a free consultation. We can talk about your parents’ needs, wishes and how I can help you all achieve them. You can also schedule an appointment by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Just to make it easier for you, we can schedule an in-office visit, a home visit or a virtual meeting.