Every family will approach death and dying from a cultural perspective, which can sometimes present cultural issues. Nevertheless, you have to prepare for the inevitable. For example, an elderly parent is relying on you for care and yet doesn’t put documents in place to allow you to provide that care, the results of which can be tragic for everyone.
However, it can be difficult to discuss death with your family if there’s a cultural reluctance to do so. Younger family members may see the need for estate planning and legal documentation. They want to help their parents, but don’t want to seem presumptuous. It can appear like they’re asking about their future inheritance. What to do?
It may help to bring in a professional who can provide value by being the bridge between generations. Some estate and financial professionals will understand that the U.S. system may be different than in your family’s home country. Be prepared to answer questions about your background and attitudes so the professionals can help you without causing discomfort or offense.
Consider How Culture and Law Interact
Every culture and identity approaches finances differently. Understanding the impact of culture on money will help in estate planning. Japan, for example, doesn’t have a probate system; heirs divide assets and debts by agreement even if there is a will that provides a different allocation.
Another example: The durable power of attorney, as used in the U.S., is still a very novel concept in most East Asian countries. Medical decisions continue to be handled informally by the family, especially for elderly or very ill patients. Yet, the lack of one can prove problematic in the U.S.
Generational Changes Can Create Cultural Issues
Cultural ties to a person’s home country lessen with each successive generation. The experience of a first-generation immigrant client will be different from the experience of that person’s U.S.-born children. Do you find yourself at odds with others in your family based on age and where you grew up?
Another possible cultural issue is when family members aren’t U.S. citizens but own property here. How do you plan for possible estate taxes in the future? Capital gains taxes? Fortunately, a little advance planning can save the family money and trouble by setting up an estate plan to accomplish goals in a tax-efficient way. Listen closely to the advice of qualified financial professionals — and make sure they listen to you.
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