By FPA member Liz Gustin
Last Updated: February 20, 2012
The idea of caring for the people who you have always looked to for advice and help with your needs can be very difficult. However, it is important to begin this discussion well before your parents need your help, while they can still make these decisions for themselves. They may be resistant, but you can emphasize that you are not attempting to control their business or living situation but instead want to be sure that you are prepared to execute their wishes when, or if, they are not able to do things for themselves.
Begin this process by inquiring about estate documents such as wills, trusts, durable power of attorneys, and health care directives. If these documents have not been put in place or have not been updated, it is an ideal time to determine your parents’ preferences. Offer to go with them to visit an attorney who can help them prepare these essential documents.
You should also work with your parents to create a list of contact information for their attorney, accountant, financial adviser, insurance agent, doctors, pharmacy, and any individuals employed in or around their home. If they have a trusted neighbor or friend, you may want to introduce yourself and get their phone number for your own reference. Having this type of relationship already established can prove invaluable, in the event that you are unable to reach your parents for an extended period of time.
You can also help your parents gather their own personal information and ensure that you know the location of their key documents. If they have a safe deposit box, you should know where the keys are kept. If appropriate, you should also determine if they are willing to add your name as an authorized signer allowing you access in times of emergency.
It is helpful if you know the location of the following documents:
- Bank accounts
- Investment accounts
- Real estate deeds
- Mortgage statements
- Companies and policy numbers for all insurance policies
- Lists of medications and medical history
- Funeral and burial preferences
- Titles of personal property
- Tax returns
If you do not live in the same geographic area, make copies of this information, as well as estate documents, so that you will be able to refer to them should the need arise.
Another important issue that you should discuss with your parents is where they would like to live as they grow older. Do they want to stay in their home or move to a retirement community? Talk to them about where their friends are and what social activities they enjoy. This discussion can help them consider where they would like to be and what is important to them in their community.
Having these sensitive discussions with your parents will take time, especially if they have not shared personal and financial information with you in the past. However, if you are patient with them and don’t make demands, the process can be extremely beneficial to you and your parents’ peace of mind.
If and when the time comes when your parents begin to need your help in making decisions and conducting their affairs, be sure to explain what you are doing for them and to document conversations. Ask them what information you should share with other family members, and keep them involved and informed as much as possible. The trust that you have developed over the years should allow you to help during their transition years as they begin to face times when they are not as capable of managing their own affairs. You will become an invaluable asset to them.
FPA member Liz Gustin is a financial planner with Wingate Wealth Advisors LLC in Lexington, Mass.