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Discussing Finances With Aging Parents

Maria Contreras Marketing Manager, Consumers Credit Union
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Does your retirement plan include your parents? It probably should! Chances are good that they are counting on you to handle their affairs if they die or become incapacitated.

How confident are you that you have everything you need to handle that role effectively? Do you know their wishes regarding life-prolonging care? Have they given you power of attorney? Will they have adequate resources to pay for the cost of their care?

Many parents are reluctant to discuss these things with their children because they think they are private matters, they fear losing control, or they want to appear to have it all under control. Be sensitive to that, but don't let it keep you from starting the conversation because the stakes are high.

There are many risks that could put a significant dent in your own retirement plans if you haven't properly planned for how to help mom and dad. The sooner you begin talking and planning, the easier it will likely be on everyone involved. Helping is much more difficult after a crisis, so start talking while your parents are still healthy and active.

Below is a checklist of talking points that will help you get started.

  • Do you have a will? If so, where is it located?
  • Do you have a living will?
  • 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, such as birth and marriage certificates, dissolution of marriage documents, Social Security and military service records, etc.?
  • Where are life, health, and property insurance policies kept?
  • Have you made a list of investments including 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?
  • Have you developed a letter of last instruction? If so, where is it located?
  • If you have a retirement program, is there a death benefit for survivors? If so, whom should the survivors contact?

Taking over decision-making authority for your parents is never easy, but you owe it to both them and yourself to get things in order. And while you're at it, get your own affairs organized so that you don't leave a mess for your children. Proper planning will give peace of mind, help avoid family conflict, and minimize the financial impact on everyone involved.