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The Heritage Law Center, LLC Blog

Tough Conversations with Aging Parents

POSTED ON: September 16, 2016

Whether you see your parents on a daily or weekly basis or have to travel to visit them at the holidays, there comes a time when we realize that they are aging and may be facing some health or cognitive issues. Perhaps suddenly, they seem to need more assistance with daily tasks. Whether there is a specific turning point or a gradual realization, eventually you will need to discuss important topics and decisions for their retirement, their advanced years and end-of-life wishes.

These tough but necessary conversations can be uncomfortable. Here are three guidelines to follow when the time is right.

1. Assure them they are still in control. Begin the conversation and preparation when your parents are still able to express themselves and comprehend the situation. Express your concern and make it clear that they can have the ability to choose what their desires and wishes are for the future. Let them know that their wishes will be abided by, and that you are there to assist them, and that you will partner with them to find the solutions.

2. Trust is key. The parent/child relationship is based on trust and even when roles are reversed, trust remains a priority. It is crucial that our parents know they have a faithful agent in ensuring their goals and decisions are respected and carried out.

3. Information gathering is a top priority. Making guesses about your parents’ wishes and their vital information during a crisis can result in chaotic, ill-informed decisions. Gathering the information ahead of time is the best way to prevent a crisis.

Relevant Documents

Here is a quick rundown of the essential documents you will need and that should be discussed with your aging loved one.

Financial information can be crucial in many instances for timely, efficient and affordable care. Here is a list of some vital financial information:

  1. List of all bank accounts
  2. Pension documents, 401(k) information, and annuity contracts
  3. Tax returns
  4. Savings bonds, stock certificates or brokerage accounts
  5. Partnership and corporate operating agreements
  6. Deeds to all properties
  7. Vehicle title
  8. Documentation of loans and debts, including all credit accounts
  9. Trust documents and durable financial power-of-attorney (financial proxy)

Also critical is access to the information. Just because you may know what the parents own, does not mean you can get access to information regarding the assets, or be able to transact on behalf of the parent. This is where having proper releases (or a power of attorney or trust) on file with the asset holders and having them accepted as being sufficient for the particular purpose is necessary.

Healthcare Documents You Need

If a senior becomes incapacitated or can’t communicate, it’s important that the senior’s wishes be stated in a living will or health care advance directive, and also that someone with the authority to represent the senior has been designated.

Important healthcare documents include:

  1. Healthcare proxy (durable health power-of-attorney)
  2. Authorization to release healthcare information
  3. Living Will (healthcare directive)
  4. Personal medical history Insurance card (Medicare, Medicaid, Independent)
  5. Long-term care insurance policy
  6. Lists of current medication and health conditions

When it comes to healthcare decisions, remember that the agent is the proxy for the parent in carrying out these decisions in the same manner that they would have had they been able to. Parents or family members need to provide a lot of detail.

End-of-Life and Estate Planning Documents 

It’s emotionally challenging when a loved one dies. Family members don’t need to also feel overwhelmed trying to sort out end-of-life affairs.

Essential end-of-life documents include the following:

  1. Will and Trust
  2. Life Insurance Policies
  3. End of life instructions letter (regarding wishes not covered in will, for example regarding memorial, or items not covered in the will)
  4. Organ donor card or information

Taking Action

Procrastination is not the friend of estate planning. Proactive planning is the key to protecting family assets. If you are heading to visit your parents soon, start the conversation. It may not feel like the perfect time, but the sooner you begin, the better opportunity to make a plan that will provide for everyone’s peace of mind.

For more information on estate planning, please contact The Heritage Law Center at mkarr@maheritagelawcenter.com or 617.299.6976.