My 8-year-old son asked me recently what the words, real estate, meant. Simple, I said. Real estate is property, land, and buildings. Like our house. His father and I own that. We bought it in 1998 with our own money, and some of the bank’s. So that makes us real estate investors--by choice.

What I didn’t get into with him is that one day we’ll own more real estate—not by choice, but by inheritance. My 78-year-old father owns a house, condominium and shopping center in Aspen, Colo., a vacant piece of land in Marco Island, Fla., and some shares in a handful of shopping centers in strip malls across the country. When the inevitable happens, these properties will pass on to my two sisters and me.

Sure, I consider myself very lucky. Still, my dad hasn’t been the most diligent about putting his house—so to speak—in order. So there’s a risk we’ll have to face a huge tax bill unless dad makes some estate planning decisions--soon. It’s never easy to discuss these matters with your parents. But it’s got to be done to protect our family financially.

It turns out the Aspen house that my father built in 1977 for $150,000 is now worth $2.9 million. With an estimated 50% estate tax, my sisters and I are slated for a $1.5 million tax bill when my father dies. We could always sell. But that’s my house, my home—a concept even my 8-year-old son can understand.

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