Estate Planning: Having “The Talk” With Your Parents

It’s the talk no one wants to face, but everyone needs to have: your parents are getting older, and it’s time to discuss the many “what ifs” surrounding their health, their final wishes, and their estate planning.

We don’t like to think about our parents aging and the inevitability of their passing, but taking the time to discuss those tricky topics will save you and your family further stress, worry, and confusion during a time when you should be grieving. These difficult conversations are critical if you want to avoid unnecessary personal and financial hardships in your attempts to carry out your parents’ final wishes.

The Benefits of Estate Planning

  • Protect your assets and ensure they are being handled correctly.
  • Prevent disputes over property or family heirlooms.
  • Make sure your parents’ final wishes are known and followed.
  • Bring your family a sense of empowerment and control.
  • Be prepared for emergencies and the unexpected.

Starting a Dialogue

You don’t have to discuss everything at once, but taking that first step will make future conversations easier. When you approach your parents, remember to be sincere. Reassure them that this is to protect them, their assets, and their wishes. Stay positive and stress the importance of having these conversations early.

Finally, remember to be compassionate–these topics are just as difficult for them as they are for you.

Important Questions to Ask

  • Where important documents such as car and house titles, tax information, property deeds, and a will are located.
  • If there is a safe or deposit box, where is the key or combination stored?
  • Are there other assets that you need to be aware of?
  • If your parents own a business, what are their plans for that business?
  • Are there any debts that need to be paid?
  • What are their wishes for specific heirlooms, including art, jewelry, and furniture?
  • The names and contact information of all beneficiaries listed in the will.

The death or incapacitation of a parent is a confusing and emotional time, but proper planning will allow you to face the uncertainty with confidence. The attorneys at Surratt & Thompson, PLLC are here to help you and your family with all your estate planning and probate needs.

family estate planning

How To Remain Civil When Dealing with an Estate Within Your Family

Losing someone is never easy and can be made increasingly difficult when dealing with the estate of that person. You open that will and realize the task before you. Uncle Billy is to receive X dollars, you and your siblings are to split the home evenly, debts are to be paid, and that’s not even bringing up funeral expenses. Each family member then becomes anxious for what has been left to them. The trick is – how to remain civil when you’re the one managing the estate and getting phone calls every other day?

Grief affects us all differently.

Remember that they are grieving as well. You’ve all lost someone dear to you. Their grief may manifest in a way that rubs you the wrong way – often in the form of phone calls and texts. You, being the executor of the estate are the point person and can become the object of that grief. They may not understand why they weren’t put in charge of the estate, or have some lingering guilt. Regardless, grief manifests in each of us differently. Keep that at the forefront of your mind when going through this process!

Offer regular updates on the estate.

The estate process can take a while – especially when real estate is involved or the liquidation of assets needs to occur. Between having to list a house for sale or dealing with an insurance company, these things take time. When you’re in the thick of it and everything is riding on you making phone calls or filing paperwork it feels like it’s taking an eternity. Those that are waiting for their inheritance but aren’t involved in the process are left wondering what could possibly be taking so long. Offer up regular updates to those involved to help ease their frustration. This also lets them know you’re actively working to resolve everything.

Assume the best intentions.

Listen, dealing with an estate can be tricky, trying and incredibly frustrating – especially when there is money involved. It’s easy to begin applying labels to family members and assume all they care about is money. If you assume those are their intentions, you’ll become increasingly frustrated with them and it will be difficult to continue building relationships after this is all over. Assume their intentions are good and it makes stomaching the frustration much easier.  

Blame us!

We’ve found one of the best ways to remaining civil with your family when going through an estate is to let them know your attorneys are taking care of it all. They aren’t likely to call us and ask us for updates, especially when they know they aren’t the executor of the estate. Letting them know your legal professionals are handling the manner will put their minds at ease – and yours as well.  

Dealing with an estate isn’t something any of us are ever prepared to do in our personal lives. Here at Surratt & Thompson, however, we are prepared. Let us handle the legalities so that you can grieve. For estate planning and probate services in Winston Salem, contact us today. 

Emotional Legal Battle Consolation

How To Support Your Loved One in the Midst of a Legal Battle

Divorce, physical assault, mental abuse, custody battles, claims of defamation. These are all types of legal battles that involve two parties almost always in opposition of one another. They are so often ugly, angry and emotional. We don’t wish any of the above on anyone, yet we know they occur.

We also know that it can be difficult standing on the sideline, watching someone you love go through something so heart-wrenching and painful as they seek justice or fight to keep others from being harmed. How can you even begin to support someone going through something so difficult?

Apples and Oranges

Many of us have family members or friends that have been through divorces, ugly custody hearings, or similar legal proceedings. That doesn’t, however, make us all experts on divorce, ugly custody hearings, or similar legal proceedings. It’s easy to draw comparisons between two cases and try to offer comfort because ‘your cousin went through a divorce and won full custody,’ however no two cases play out the same. Judges are different, individuals involved are different and often state laws are different.

Support through ‘comparisons’ is rarely helpful. Remember: each case is made up of individuals making no two cases alike.

Emotional Legal Battle Consolation

Support Their Decisions

Difficult decisions are often made amidst legal battles, usually under the careful guidance of a legal professional. You might not always agree with those decisions, however, your friend/relative needs you to support those decisions. Legal battles are often settled by coming to a mutual agreement between two parties. It might feel like your loved one has ‘lost,’ and you might even feel frustrated with the outcome, but that is when they need you in their corner the most. Trust in them and back them all the way.

Stay Neutral

This, above all else, feels impossible. You want to side with your loved one, cheering them on to victory! ‘Victory,’ however, is often not the end goal. It’s justice or reparation, possibly a favorable parenting agreement that works well for both parents. It’s alright to take sides, but try to keep neutral and level-headed when discussing the legal battle. They are hurting, angry, frustrated, sad – any number of emotions and don’t need any fuel added to the fire. They need a friend and calming influence.

Don’t Be An Expert

The internet is a wonderful, vast and dangerous landscape, filled with misinformation and opinion. Don’t take it upon yourself to solve their case for them by delving into the deep web. Each state, county, even city handles all manner of cases differently and someone from California offering legal tips on a message board for abused mothers won’t be much help to someone going through a divorce in North Carolina.

Just like you should avoid cancer diagnoses on WebMD, you shouldn’t try to become an attorney in an attempt to help your loved one.


What your loved one needs more than anything else, more than an expert, more than a protector, is someone to hear them. Just listen. Don’t judge, don’t offer unsolicited advice. Just love them and listen as they go through this hard time.

Often our intentions are pure and we only want to help. Often we end up doing the opposite. Be there for your loved one and support them emotionally. Let us handle the ugly, gritty court battles. Your work is, at the end of the day, far more important and impactful than even ours.

Online Legal Services

8 Reasons to Avoid LegalZoom & Online Legal Services

Getting legal documents or advice from online services such as LegalZoom can leave you frustrated, and it might be much more costly than expected. While it may seem easy now, it can really hurt you (and cost you!) in the long run. Here are 8 reasons to be wary of using these online legal services.

Relationships Are Important

A face-to-face discussion with a knowledgeable and trusted attorney is key to creating a comfortable and beneficial relationship. It allows you to fully explain exactly what you’re seeking so you know you’re understood. And discussing your legal needs with someone who knows what questions to ask often helps clarify a confusing situation. Sometimes we think we need one form or contract, but because we’re not all attorneys, we can be wrong. And while LegalZoom may write up a great contract, it won’t be what you need and the online legal service has no way to know that.

Your Situation Is Unique

No matter what your legal need might be—estate planning, incorporation, real estate transactions, probates and wills—the specific details of your situation are most likely different from anyone else’s. A cookie-cutter solution will probably only “kind of” fit your needs. It won’t address every aspect of what you’re looking for. And it certainly won’t be customized to cover everything you need it to.

Online Legal Services

You Don’t Want to Be Upsold

You want sound legal advice and expert representation. You don’t want to be asked repeatedly if you would consider buying additional information or an “upgraded” package or subscription. You want your lawyer to help you, not sell you something you don’t really need.

Hidden Fees Are the Worst

Even if you buy a prepackaged solution from an online legal service such as LegalZoom, any filing fees, penalties, quick-delivery costs, and other hidden charges you might incur are your responsibility. You should know exactly what your costs are going to be to avoid unpleasant surprises.

Local Laws Vary Widely

Every state, county, city, and borough has its own set of laws—and they can vary tremendously from place to place. You need an attorney who knows the specific laws that pertain to your situation no matter where you live. Here at Surratt & Thompson, we know North Carolina laws like the back of our hand, particularly those of Forsyth County, Davie County, and surrounding areas. LegalZoom? Not so much.

Online Legal Services

The Law Changes All the Time

A “one-size-fits-all” solution might not take into account recent changes to laws and requirements. You need to be confident that the information you get is from an experienced local attorney who understands the ever-changing legal landscape.

You Deserve Quick Answers

If you need answers to important questions, legal advice, additional information, or an explanation of a legal concept, you want to be sure there is someone you can ask who is responsive and knows your case. Quick and effective follow-up will go a long way toward giving you peace of mind. Typically the customer service team at LegalZoom are there for troubleshooting website errors – not legal errors.

You Want to Count on Future Support

If your legal documents are questioned or stance is challenged—or if additional opposition develops or new information comes to light–you don’t want to start at square one. You want to reconnect with an experienced attorney who knows your case. Only they can provide continuing support and expert follow-through. LegalZoom may remember the paperwork you needed, but they don’t provide much help after that.

Instead of depending on an automated, online legal service, schedule a consultation with one of our experienced attorneys today so we can guide you through the complex legal process and avoid extra work or charges.

Grief Mom Dies / Death in the Family

What Do I Do If Dad (or Mom) Dies?

Knowing where your father’s (or mother’s) estate planning papers are located and what his wishes and intentions were, regarding his estate, will make dealing with his passing at least a little bit easier. Having plans in place before a death occurs will help you greatly during this difficult time. We always encourage our clients to plan for the future and reduce the confusion during a time of grief. In fact, conflicts can occur when plans have not been made and it’s up to the children to determine what their parents would want.

If you’re already in that situation, we are very sorry for your loss and we are here to help ease the burden of this difficult time. Here are the first steps you should take:

Obtain Legal Pronouncement of Death

This legal pronouncement, or death certificate, is the first important document you’ll need to obtain. If your parent passes at home, the first call will probably be to paramedics, who will contact a doctor, who can provide a legal pronouncement. If he or she was under hospice care, contact the hospice nurse. They can assist with the documentation.

Make the Necessary Notifications

A large number of parties will need to be notified soon after your parent’s death. A funeral home, mortuary, or crematorium will likely help with these notifications. They can also arrange transportation for your parent. We suggest you contact his or her doctor, employer, and any military, fraternal, or religious organization that he or she belonged to (these groups might provide services at the funeral). Family members and friends will, of course, also need to be contacted. It is often helpful to find someone who can look after the family’s home if no one is living in it any longer. An obituary should be provided to the local newspaper, if desired.

We recommend getting between 5 and 10 copies of the death certificate, as you will need original, certified copies for the clerk of court, banks, insurance policies, and some other institutions.

Paperwork Mom Dies / Death in the Family

Locate Key Papers

The amount paperwork you’ll need to locate in the event of a parent’s death can be daunting. The most pressing items to find as soon as possible are the will and information about funeral plans already in place. These items will help you know what your next steps should be. A well-prepared will offers details about their intentions regarding their estate. It will eventually be taken to the appropriate county clerk to be filed for probate.

If you are named as the executor of your parent’s will, our office can provide information regarding the responsibilities this role entails. And we can walk you through the process from the initial filing and providing required notices through reports filed with the clerk and payment of claims, to ultimately final distributions.

Know Assets and Obligations

A complete list of your parent’s assets and obligations might require quite a bit of research, but it is essential. Information regarding insurance policies, financial accounts, titles and deeds, and any other assets will need to be gathered. You will also want to find out if your parent had a safe deposit box and where the box is located. Material pertaining to unpaid bills and any other debts or financial obligations will also need to be located to determine exactly what financial obligations the estate might have.

As you can see, there’s a lot more to this process than most people realize. In fact, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Call us to help you through this complex and often confusing process. We will help carry the burden of administration so you can have time to grieve.

Surratt & Thompson Winston Salem Legal Services Incompetency & Guardianship Attorneys

If you need guidance through this process, our experienced probate and estate administration attorneys are available to support you through this difficult time and handle any issues that arise with an estate.