What Can You Do About a Recalcitrant Parent?

 In Durable Powers of Attorney, Wills

Photo by Tim Doerfler on Unsplash


I’ve been badgering my Dad (age 62, single, with health conditions) to sign durable power of attorney and health care proxy documents for many years now. I think he finally filled something out online a couple of years ago, but I don’t think he followed through on getting it notarized or anything. I’ve requested copies, as have my siblings, with no response. Is there anything I can do to prepare for the future? Aside from continuing to ask him questions and explain consequences of not having these documents in place? I’m at a loss about what to do to prevent future stress.


It’s not unusual for people to be reluctant (or recalcitrant?) about doing their estate planning. Whether it’s the thought of death or illness or the necessity of making choices about who to appoint to various roles, many individuals put off their estate planning. The advantage of doing one’s estate planning online as opposed to using a lawyer is that it’s much less expensive and it can be done privately. The disadvantage is that, as in your father’s case, people often don’t complete the job. A lawyer would prod your father to complete what he started, could help him make any tough decisions, and the fee would at least be an incentive to complete what he’s paid for.

So, I see two options: The first is to try to get your father to meet with a local estate planning attorney (perhaps with you and your siblings offering to pay the fee, if the cost is a deterrent).

The second is more of an “intervention.” Perhaps if you and your siblings together were to sit down with your father, whether in person or by video conference, you could get him to act. You might even have a computer and printer with you, so you can all work together to have him complete the plan. If he’s having trouble deciding who to name on his durable power of attorney, health care proxy, and as personal representative on his will, you could discuss together with him who among his children might be appropriate to fill these roles. Let your father know that this is for you at least as much as it is for him. If he doesn’t act, his children will be left “holding the bag”—having to figure out how to manage at a time of crisis. Finally, remind him that everything is revocable. If he changes his mind, he can change his documents, but it’s important to have something in place in the meantime.

Response to Advice:

After I responded to this query, the person requesting advice responded as follows:

My issue with the first option is that there’s no way he would be willing to pay an estate planner a reasonable fee. He’s barely surviving with his 2 part-time jobs, and he follows Dave Ramsey‘s principles about not carrying any debt. Maybe if I offered to pay for the estate planning he would be willing to do it, though who knows…

The problem, in my case, with the 2nd option is that my siblings don’t agree with prodding him. They say that he’s an adult who can make his own decisions and leave it at that. None of them lives locally, though, and I do; so I know I would be on the hook if something happened to my Dad; a kind of an “out of sight, out of mind” deal.

Ultimately, children can only prod their parents to engage in appropriate estate planning. If they don’t, the children will have to pick up the pieces as best they can.

Related Articles:

How Can You Help Your Aging Parents from a Distance?

9 Questions to Ask and Answer in Preparing Your Durable Power of Attorney

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