My siblings and I do not know much about our elderly parents' financial situation or their wishes if something happens to them. When mom broke her hip last year, it got me thinking we need to be better prepared. What is the best way to handle this, and what should we know?
Many adult children do not know much about their elderly parents' financial situation or end-of-life plans, but they should. Getting up to speed on your parents' finances, insurance policies, long-term care plans and other information is important because someday you might have to help them handle their financial affairs, manage their care or execute their estate plan after they die. Without this information, your job becomes much more difficult. Here are some tips that can help.
Have the Conversation
If you are uncomfortable talking to your parents about this topic, use this column as a prompt or start by talking about your own finances or estate plan as a way to ease into it. Also see TheConversationProject.org
, which offers free kits that can help you kick-start these discussions.
It is also a good idea to get your siblings involved. This can help you head off possible hard feelings. Plus, with others involved, your parents will know everyone is concerned.
When you talk with your parents, you should begin collecting certain information. Find out where they keep key documents and how they want certain things handled when they die or if they become incapacitated. Here is a checklist of areas to focus on.
PERSONAL & HEALTH INFORMATION
- Contacts: Make a list of names and phone numbers of their doctors, lawyer, accountant, broker, tax preparer, insurance agent, etc.
- Medical information: Make a copy of their medical histories (any drug allergies, past surgeries, etc.) and a list of medications they take.
- Personal documents: Find out where they keep important documents, such as Social Security cards, marriage license, military discharge papers, etc.
- Secured places: Make a list of places they keep under lock and key or protected by passwords, such as online accounts, safe deposit boxes, safe combination, security alarms, etc.
- Pets: If they have any pets, find out what their instructions are for their animals' care.
- End of life: What are their wishes for organ or body donation? What are their funeral instructions? If they have made pre-arrangements with a funeral home, get a copy of the agreement.
- Will: Do they have an updated will or trust? If so, where is it located?
- Power of attorney: Do they have a power of attorney document that names someone to handle their financial matters if they become incapacitated?
- Advance directives: Do they have a living will and a medical power of attorney that spells out their wishes regarding end-of-life medical treatment? If they do not have these documents prepared, now is the time to make them.
- Debts and liabilities: Make a list of any loans, leases or debts they have, including mortgages, car loans, medical bills and credit card debts. Also, make a list of all their credit and charge cards, including the card numbers and contact information.
- Financial accounts: Make a list of their bank and brokerage accounts (checking, savings, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, IRAs, etc.) and contact information for these accounts.
- Company benefits: Make a list of any retirement plans, pensions or benefits from their former employers, including the contact information of the benefits administrator.
- Insurance: Make a list of the insurance policies they have (life, long-term care, home, auto, Medicare, etc.) including the policy numbers, agents and phone numbers.
- Property: Make a list of the real estate, vehicles or other properties they own, rent or lease and where they keep the deeds, titles and loan or lease agreements.
- Taxes: Find out where they keep copies of past years' tax returns.
For more tips, see the Eldercare Locator publication "Let's Talk: Starting the Conversation about Health, Legal, Financial and End-of-Life Issues" at N4A.org/files/Conversations.pdf
Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living” book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization’s official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.