So, your parents are getting older. They're having some health issues, and perhaps they're clearly slowing down both mentally and physically. You want to ask them about their future plans, but somehow the timing never seems right.
Children of not-so-tech-savvy parents often find that their folks have legal and financial documents scattered throughout the house, with no digital files or centralized list—making it difficult to locate important information in an emergency or at all.
As you approach your parents, be sensitive to their feelings. Don't criticize or judge their past choices, but do aim for open communication. Give them time to wrap their minds around making plans and accepting help.
In other words, don't expect to get everything done in an afternoon.
Timing is everything
Try to start the discussion when things feel calm and relaxed, not during Thanksgiving dinner or on the way to the ER after Dad has had another fall. If you have siblings, talk among yourselves first and try to agree on the best way to approach your parents. Sitting down as a group works for some families, but, for others, it's better if one child takes the lead and keeps the others updated.
The key is to be patient, kind, and respectful of your parents' need to make their own decisions. Let your parents know you are concerned and want to make sure things go smoothly if something were to happen to either of them.
Also let them know that you and your siblings want to be able to plan for any help you may need to provide.
If your parents seem resistant, don't get angry or push them too hard. But don't let things slide either. Agree to revisit the topic again soon.
Find out what plans they've made
Once your parents are willing to talk, find out what plans they've made. Don't settle for vague answers like, "Oh, I took care of all that." Encourage them, or help them, find important documents—whether in hard copy or digital form—and read through them. Ask yourself if they still reflect your parents' wishes. Also, determine if the people named for important roles are still alive and able to serve.
Here are some documents to look for:
- A will. The will should be signed, and it should not have handwritten notes or corrections.
- Powers of attorney. A durable general power of attorney names someone to take over your financial and legal affairs if you become unable to do so yourself. A healthcare power of attorney appoints someone to communicate with providers and make decisions on your behalf if you are unable to.
- Advance directives, or living wills. These specify your wishes for end of life care, in the event you are unable to communicate them yourself.
- Trusts. A trust holds money in an account for someone's benefit. Trusts are commonly set up to avoid probate, plan for long-term care, or provide for someone who should not have full access to an inheritance.
- Life insurance policies. Find out who is listed as the beneficiary.
- Funeral and burial plans. Ask your parents about their wishes and plans for funerals, cremation, or burial.
At a minimum, your parents need a will, healthcare power of attorney, durable general power of attorney, and living will. An estate planning or elder law attorney can answer questions and prepare the right estate planning documents.
Talking about money
Money is an off-limits topic in many families, but it's important to know whether your parents have savings, equity in their home, or other assets that could help pay for their care as they get older. In-home caregivers, nursing homes, and assisted living are generally not covered by Medicare. Communicating honestly about finances can help everyone avoid a crisis and make a realistic plan for the future.
Encourage your parents to make a list of all their bank, savings, and investment accounts, along with account numbers and passwords, so someone can take over if they suddenly become unable to manage their money. Store the list in a known, secure location and keep it up to date.
Even if your parents aren't terribly tech-savvy, they may have accounts and passwords for social media, cell phones, bill paying, email, their internet provider, video streaming services, and a host of websites. They may not realize how hard it will be to access those accounts and cancel or pay them if something were to happen. Work with your parents to make a list of accounts and passwords. Chances are, they'll be glad to have everything related to their estate planning in one place.
Once you understand the situation more clearly, you can talk to your parents about the next steps. For example, you can help them set up physical and digital files for important documents or find an estate planning attorney.
With patience and persistence, you and your parents will have greater peace of mind, knowing that you've planned for whatever the future may hold.