It's human nature to put off complicated or emotionally heavy tasks. Talking with aging parents about their finances, health, and overall well-being might fall in this category. Many adult children would rather avoid this task, as it can create feelings of fear and loss on both sides. But this conversation — what could be the first of many — is too important to put off for long. The best time to start is when your parents are relatively healthy. Otherwise, you may find yourself making critical decisions on their behalf in the midst of a crisis without a roadmap.
Here are some questions to ask them that might help you get started.
- What institutions hold your financial assets? Ask your parents to create a list of their bank, brokerage, and retirement accounts, including account numbers, name(s) on accounts, and online user names and passwords, if any. You should also know where to find their insurance policies (life, home, auto, disability, long-term care), Social Security cards, titles to their house and vehicles, outstanding loan documents, and past tax returns. If your parents have a safe-deposit box or home safe, make sure you can access the key or combination.
- Do you need help paying monthly bills or reviewing items like credit card statements, medical receipts, or property tax bills? Do you use online bill pay for any accounts?
- Do you currently work with any financial, legal, or tax professionals? If so, ask your parents if they want to share contact information and whether they would find it helpful if you attended meetings with them.
- Do you have a durable power of attorney? A durable power of attorney is a legal document that allows a named individual (such as an adult child) to manage all aspects of a parent's financial life if the parent becomes disabled or incompetent.
- Do you have a will? If so, find out where it is and who is named as executor. If the will is more than five years old, your parents may want to review it to make sure their current wishes are represented. Ask if they have any specific personal property disposition requests that they want to discuss now.
- Are your beneficiary designations up-to-date? Beneficiary designations on your parents' insurance policies, pensions, IRAs, and investment accounts will trump any instructions in their will.
- Do you have an overall estate plan? A trust? A living trust can be used to help manage an estate while your parents are still living. If you'd like to learn more, consult an estate planning attorney.
- What doctors do you currently see? Are you happy with the care you're getting? If your parents begin to need multiple medical specialists and/or home health services, you might consider hiring a geriatric care manager, especially if you don't live close by.
- What medications are you currently taking? Are you able to manage various dosage instructions? Do you have any notable side effects? At what pharmacy do you get your prescriptions filled?
- What health insurance do you have? In addition to Medicare, which starts at age 65, find out if your parents have or should consider Medigap insurance — a private policy that covers many costs not covered by Medicare. You may also want to discuss the need for long-term care insurance, which helps pay for extended custodial or nursing home care.
- Do you have an advance medical directive? This document expresses your parents' wishes regarding life-support measures, if needed, and designates someone who will communicate with health-care professionals on their behalf. If your parents do not want heroic life-saving measures to be undertaken for them, this document is a must.
- Do you plan to stay in your current home for the foreseeable future, or are you considering downsizing?
- Is there anything I can do now to make your home more comfortable and safe? This might include smaller projects such as installing hand rails and night lights in the bathroom, to larger projects such as moving the washing machine out of the basement, installing a stair lift, or moving a bedroom to the first floor.
- Could you benefit from a weekly or monthly cleaning service?
- Do you employ certain people or companies for home maintenance projects (e.g., heating contractor, plumber, electrician, fall cleanup)?
- Do you want to be buried or cremated? Do you have a burial plot picked out?
- Do you have any specific requests or wishes for your memorial service?