Here’s what you need to know about your elderly parents and finances.
Since we all have aging parents, there’s lots we need to know in order to help them “grow old gracefully.” Today I’m going to concentrate on one area of this topic: elderly parents and finances.
Watching your mother and father age can be difficult, especially if they’re experiencing physical or mental decline. Healthy or no, you need to be somewhat informed about your elderly parents and their finances. If for no other reason than to know there is funding for their long-term care.
To prepare for this season of life, here are five questions you should ask your folks sooner than later. Because life is unpredictable. You may think, “I’ll get all this elderly parent stuff taken care of tomorrow.” But the truth is, for your aging parent, tomorrow may not come. As such, there are some key things you need to know on the subject of your elderly parents and finances.
Question #1: “Mom and/or Dad: Who is your medical power-of-attorney?”
What exactly is a “medical power-of-attorney?”
According to wvlegalservices.org, “A Medical Power of Attorney is a legal instrument that allows you to select the person that you want to make healthcare decisions for you if and when you become unable to make them for yourself. The person you pick is representative for purposes of healthcare decision-making.”
Say your parent falls and suffers a head trauma. This happened with my mother-in-law. Since she was basically in a coma because of a fall, her medical power-of-attorney (my husband) was responsible for making decisions about her health care until she became alert again which sadly, did not happen.
Question #2: “Mom and/or Dad: Who is your financial power-of-attorney?”
What exactly is a “financial power-of-attorney?
According to Edward A. Haman, writing for LegalZoom.com, “If you want someone to be able to conduct your financial matters if you can’t be present, or if you are unable to do so, a financial power of attorney may be your solution.”
Cole Bozic, an attorney at Bloom Legal Group, LLC, says getting the “durable” (ie. financial) power-of-attorney in place way before you need it is extremely important because if an aging parent declines quickly with dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease, you may not be able to get it.
If your parents have not taken this step on their own, persuading them to do so can be tricky. Often as individuals age, they become suspicious regarding their finances. They may believe,
“Everyone’s after my money.”
This was sadly the case for my mother. For years my oldest brother was her durable power-of-attorney, but when he moved to Texas, he urged her to change it to me, since he was now 1,000 miles away.
For some reason, my mother hesitated to make me her durable power-of-attorney. Maybe because my brother has an MBA. Perhaps because she and I were often in conflict, as regular readers of this blog already know. It wasn’t easy but finally, at the urging of my brother and my mother’s financial planner, she took the step.
During the meeting with the attorney who drew up the paperwork, Mom asked for clarification on the document. The attorney assured her that a durable power-of-attorney would only go into effect if she was medically unable to make financial decisions for herself.
Note: I also wondered about “living wills.” According to AllLaw.com, the terms “living will,” “health care directive,” and “advance directive” all refer to the legal document that lets people state their wishes for end-of-life medical care.”
Cole Bozic says when she draws up a medical power-of-attorney, it includes living will provisions. However, your parent’s physician can also provide these documents.
Question #3: “Mom and/or Dad, is someone listed on your bank accounts besides you?”
This was another sticking point with my mother. Until she fell. Good golly, did she fall! Thank goodness she wore a medical alert pendant which allowed her to call for an ambulance to take her to the hospital.
Afterward, she was so fragile I had to move in with her for a time and do everything for her until I could arrange around-the-clock home healthcare for her.
That fall made Mom acutely aware of the fact that someone else needed to be listed on her checking account. To pay her bills, if nothing else. When I drove her to her bank, the bank manager—a trusted friend after over a decade of service—came out to the car so Mom wouldn’t have to come inside the branch.
When the bank manager witnessed my mother’s frailty, not to mention her very shaky signature, she urged Mom to add me to all her accounts, not just checking. Thankfully, my name and signature were already on her safety deposit box paperwork.
This step can also come in handy if your parent travels outside the country and for some reason gets delayed in coming home.
Question #4: “Mom and/or Dad, where do you keep all your important documents, account numbers, and passwords? And also, your will(s)?”
Do your parents have a will? Do you have a will? Tony and I did not have a really solid will until after Tony’s mother passed away. Not sure why… Actually, it was probably us believing, hoping, “That’s not going to happen for a looooonnnngggg time.”
To prevent a post-mortem financial fiasco, ask your parents to create a comprehensive document—digital or paper—that includes all of their vital information, financial and otherwise.
- Location of will(s)
- Account numbers (banking, credit cards, investments, etc.)
- User names and passwords (banking, investments, credit cards, email, etc.)
- Financial planner’s contact info
- Contact info for siblings, best friends, etc.
Bloom Legal Group, where Cole Bozic works, specializes in estate-planning. They help clients create a notebook with all their vital information in one place. What a blessing that would be!
Question #5: “Mom and/or Dad, what are your wishes for after you pass?”
This question encompasses a number of other questions such as:
- Do you want to be buried or cremated?
- If cremated, what do you want done with your ashes?
- If buried, do you want your funeral or memorial service to be open- or closed-casket?
- Do you have any specific components you want included during your service (favorite songs or hymns, a poem or Bible verse read, etc.)?
- What do you want done with your personal possessions (ie. car, furniture, jewelry, clothing, etc.)?
- Are arrangements made for the care of your pet(s)?
- Do you want money donated to specific charities in your memory?
When broaching these subjects, timing is everything.
If you are waiting for the perfect time to ask these hard questions of your elderly parents, look for opportunities during every day life.
When a family member dies, or a friend of the family’s, that could be a good opportunity to raise these questions. If your parents want you to take them to the cemetary to visit their parent’s grave, that might provide a way to have a conversation about these matters. Should your parent need to be hospitalized, that might help you bring the subject up.
Or, feel free to make me the bad guy. Print out a copy of this blog post and take it to your parents and read it out loud. Hopefully, you’ll get all the information you need.
How ever you do it, you need to ask your aging parents these hard questions soon. As Cole Bozic says, “No one is especially good at talking about their death (or incapacitation). But taking the time to have these conversations is one of the best things you can do to both honor your loved ones and save yourelf a world of confusion and unclarity later on.”
Check out my series on caring for aging parents:
- Taking Care of Aging Parents 101: A Bunch of Best Practices for Them
- Aging Parents 102: A Little Help Please
- Aging Parents 103: Navigating the Dementia Days