When you’re growing up, one of the toughest things your parents have to summon the guts to address is usually “the facts of life.” Telling your kid about sex is difficult for most folks, and it’s not exactly fun to hear either. Most of us prefer to learn these things from our peers, but many of us get at least some guidelines and expectations from our parents.
In time, as parents age and kids start noticing their parents’ decline, the next tough discussion will have to come up, one way or another. It’s far better to start the ball rolling when your parents are still relatively competent and cooperative. Waiting until they’re unfit to act on their own behalf is a bad strategy. So it will be left to you to bring up “the facts of age,” so to speak.
In most cases, it’s unnatural for a child to parent their parents, at least initially. But it happens for most of us, if we’re “blessed.”
I’ve had to learn about these things the hard way, and I’ve been asked about them by friends and family entering this arena for the first time, so I thought I’d compile a short list of the things you really need to cover in your tough talk with your parents.
1) Identify all assets: bank accounts, insurance policies, annuities, properties, cars, boats, anything of value with a title attached. Get signature cards signed. Consider joint ownership with rights of survivorship.
2) Insurance: health care & long term care. (Also consider term life policies to cover expenses. A Financial Planner can help with this.) Even if they’re eligible for Medicare, it doesn’t cover everything. Look into supplemental policies and managed Medicare (AARP has a range of programs called “Secure Horizons” where the insurer gets the money allotted for Medicare and manages the payments and care to minimize out of pocket costs). Long Term Care policies are becoming tougher to get. Jump on this sooner than later.
3) Formal Last Will & Testament. Get these done while your parents are competent to review what they have and sign legal documents.
4) Living Will (advance directives). When would they want to pull the plug? It’s an extremely important question that needs to be answered formally, in writing, with a lawyer.
5) Durable Power of Attorney: This allows their designee to make decisions and sign papers on their behalf if they can’t.
6) Health Care Proxy: Allows their designees to make health-related decisions for them and gets you past the HIPPA red tape.
7) Discuss the Funeral: This really sucks, but you need to find out what they’re thinking. In the end, funerals are for the benefit of the living, but you’ll be sorry if you don’t at least honor what your loved one really wanted. Funeral homes can help you with “pre-need” assessments; you can pre-arrange and pre-pay (shop around for the right one) and then you only have one number to call on that fateful day.
8) Financial and/or Estate Planning: Make the most of what your parents have left so you can help them to get through the rest of their lives without fear or hardship. And, with any luck, there might even be a little something left for you and your kids. Maybe a pizza party? These days, anything left over is a moral victory.
You may be tempted to put this off indefinitely. Humans tend not to want to confront these difficult issues. If you wait until your parents begin to show signs of dementia, you could be in for a rougher ride. So if you’re reading this and thinking it may just be time, don’t wait. Time marches on, and that’s just another inescapable fact of life.
*Please note: This advice is not meant as a substitute for advice from professionals. I encourage you to seek out professional help in making these decisions, for elder care, estate planning and preparation of the legal documents. Remember, you get what you pay for and one small error can cost a lot of money; the right pro can save you thousands. Get referrals where you can and work with people who know their stuff. I am compiling a list of resources on my new site.
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