When to Involve Adult Children in the Estate Planning Process

By Chris Tymchuck
Founding Attorney

Minneapolis Estate Planning Attorney Discusses Bringing A Child to Your Estate Planning Meeting with A Lawyer

You’re ready to final your estate plan.  You’ve decided who gets your assets: your daughter Emma gets the cabin and song Steven the condo. You know that you want to remain in your home as long as possible and that you want your son Joe to be power of attorney.  Now what? Time to reach out to an attorney. But, who do you bring to the meeting?

 Couples who are beginning the estate planning process may assume it’s best to have their adult child(ren) join them in the initial meeting with an estate planning attorney, but this may cause more harm than good.

This issue comes up often in the estate planning and elder law field, and it’s a matter of client confidentiality. The attorney must determine who the client is- the individual looking to draft an estate plan or their adult children- and the lawyers has a duty of confidentiality to that particular client.

The client is the person whose interests are most at stake. In this case, it is the parent. As your estate planning attorney, I must be certain I understand your wishes, goals and objectives. Having your child in the meeting could cause a problem if your child joins the conversation, but has conflicting ideas to yours.

This is especially when I represent elderly clients, there may be concerns that the wishes and desires of a child may be in conflict with the best interests of the parent. For example, in a Medicaid and long-term care estate planning context, I may end up explaining various options and one of those may involve transferring, or gifting, assets to children. The child’s interest (purely from a financial aspect) would be to receive this gift. However, that may not be what the parent wants, or feels comfortable with. The parent may be reluctant to express those concerns to me if the child is sitting right next to the parent in the meeting.

Also, if there is a later conflict over the estate, I amy be called upon to verify a client’s ability to make decisions during the estate panning process. Having a child in the room may make it more difficult for me to determine competency because the child may be “guiding” the parent and finishing the parents thoughts in an attempt to help.

With that said, I have met with many parents, especially those who have been widowed, and their adult children. I simply make it a point to explain that I will need a moment or two alone with the parent(s) prior to allowing the child to come in. I also clearly explain to both that my concern is for the parent(s) and that I am required to follow their wishes. I also pay close attention to the level of input the child has and whether the assets are being divided fairly.  Many parents want a child involved in the process and that’s fine so long as everyone understands that I must take steps to insure I am following the parents wishes.

The American Bar Association has published a pamphlet on these issues titled “Why Am I Left in the Waiting Room?” that may be helpful for you and your child to read prior to meeting with an attorney. Also, make sure you work with a qualified attorney who isn’t afraid to ask the child to step out for a minute and who takes time with the parent(s) to fully understand the situation.

About the Author
As a Minneapolis Estate Planning and Probate attorney I help build and protect families through the adoption, estate planning, and probate processes. I also have experience working with families on issues related to their small businesses. I know how difficult it is to find time to plan for the future and I am here to help walk you through it.