One of the hardest tasks the adult children of elderly parents may have to do is to involve themselves in the legal and financial affairs of the parents. Issues of privacy, independence and judgment can quickly bubble to the surface and make a difficult situation worse. But it is important for everyone involved that these issues be clarified, especially if a parents’ memory and/or physical capacity are in decline. The financial and emotional well-being of the parents, the children, and the grand-children are often at stake.
Forbes recommends having “The Talk” early and to make sure it covers all the parents’ legal matters, any health issues you may not be aware of, insurance coverage, income, bank accounts, assets, and debts. If you have doubts about their mental capacity you should also ask to see what records they have for all of the above. Ask permission to speak with their attorney if they have one. Find out if they have written a will or established a trust. Do they have health insurance beyond Medicare? Or long-term care coverage? What are their feelings about end-of-life medical decisions and have they written these into a living will? May you speak with their doctor? Do they have a financial planner and may you contact him or her? What bank accounts and investments do they have? May you have access to the passwords?
If these issues are presented in a collaborative and non-threatening way, as an honest necessity of the aging process, this discussion can help allay concerns on all sides and open up regular channels of communication on these issues that will prove invaluable. Be sure in all cases, though, to involve all of the adult children who can and want to be included and be sure to keep the others informed. Invite other, close, non-family friends and advisors if that seems appropriate. And don’t be surprised if this becomes a process spanning several discussions over months or even years.
Once you have a handle on what resources and relationships your parents have, you can begin to be a bigger part of their planning and help them make more secure choices where necessary. If they haven’t created a will, that should be the first order of business. In the case of their home, a trust may be advisable as a way of avoiding some of the complications inherent in transferring a home via a will. If their assets are sizeable you should encourage them to use a lawyer if they have not already, as well as a professional financial advisor. For more modest assets, it is possible to create your own wills and/or trusts using an on-line site like Legal Zoom. Broach the subject of creating a durable power of attorney, which will allow you to act as your parents’ representative in the case of their becoming incapacitated. A living will that defines the medical choices they want to be made on their behalf is also a good idea.
If your parents have not begun a savings plan and/or insurance policy to provide for long-term care, discuss ways you can make that happen. The cost of full-time care for incapacitated parents can be sizeable and it is important to provide for it as best they can. AARP has an excellent pamphlet/checklist called “Prepare to Care” to help you keep track of all the issues you will need to discuss and continue to keep track of as your parent’s age. If done in a calm, deliberate manner, following these steps can improve the last years of your parents’ lives and greatly reduce the stress on them and on you.
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