By Jim Miller
Dear Savvy Senior,
My siblings and I don’t 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’s the best way to handle this, and what all should we know?
Many adult children don’t know much about their elderly parents’ financial situation or end-of-life plans, but they need to. Getting up to speed on their finances, insurance policies, long-term care plans and other information is important because some day you might have to help them handle their financial affairs or 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’re 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’s also a good idea to get your siblings involved too. 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’ll need to collect some information, find out where they keep key documents and how they want certain things handled when they die or if they become incapacitated. Here’s 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 history (any drug allergies, past surgeries, etc.) and a list of medications they take.
• Personal documents: Find out where they keep their Social Security card, marriage license, military discharge papers, etc.
• Secured places: Make a list of places they keep under lock and key or protected by password, such as online accounts, safe deposit boxes, safe combination, security alarms, etc.
• Pets: If they have a pet, what are their instructions for the animal’s care?
• End of life: What are their wishes for organ or body donation, and their funeral instructions? If they’ve made pre-arrangements with a funeral home, get a copy of the agreement.
Will: Do they have an updated will or trust, and 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 their end-of-life medical treatment? If they don’t have these documents prepared, now’s the time to make them.
• Debts and liabilities: Make a list of any loans, leases or debt they have — mortgages owed, car loans, medical bills, 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 the banks and brokerage accounts they use (checking, savings, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, IRAs, trades like swing trading etc.) and their contact information.
• 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 year’s 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.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.