At some point in their lives, parents and adult children will face the challenge of having a financial discussion about issues associated with potential chronic illness, disability, mental incapacity or death. Rationally, we may know that the best way to minimize feelings of helplessness and stress is to plan ahead. Emotionally, however, we may find it difficult to talk about these issues.
Many of us do not discuss finances until a crisis occurs, when it may be too late. Once a parent suffers mental incapacity, options are reduced and procedures become more complicated and costly. Sometimes people hesitate to discuss financial concerns with their parents for fear of appearing overly interested in inheritances.
These discussion points may help families broach a difficult subject and gather some important information:
- Do you have a will? If so, where is it located?
- Do you have a living will? If so, where is it located?
- Have you granted someone a durable power of attorney? If so, who has the power, and where is the document located?
- Have you written a power of attorney for health care? If so, who has the power, and where is the document located?
- Do you have a safe deposit box? Where is the box located and where is the key? Where is the list of contents?
- What is the location of essential personal papers – birth and marriage certificates, dissolution of marriage documents, Social Security and military service records?
- Where are life, health and property insurance policies kept?
- Have you made a list of investments (savings accounts, certificates of deposit, stocks and bonds, etc.)? What are the mailing addresses of the institutions that have the investments?
- Have you made a list of the personal and real property that you own? Where is the list located?
- Who are your financial advisors? What are their names and addresses?
- If you have a retirement program, is there a death benefit for survivors? If so, whom should the survivors contact?
Be sensitive to and acknowledge aging family members feelings and preferences. Recognize their need to be independent and in control.
Gathering this information is the first step in being prepared to assist elderly parents. If adult children understand their parents’ financial and legal issues, they may also be able to protect the parents’ assets from mismanagement, fraud or exploitation by others.
Sharon Treen is director of the Flagler County Cooperative Extension Service, University of Florida.