It’s a mistake to wait to discuss finances with your aging parent, who may be in cognitive decline. It will take time to gather all the information you need for a complete financial assessment of their aging needs. Asking these questions while your parents are younger, even still working, is the best time to begin.
The founder of Enduring Wealth Advisors, Ralph Bender, says, “Waiting until a senior’s decline is evident may already be too late. It would be best if you were talking to them about it while they’re still working because they’re still competent and still able to fund (long-term care) and pay the premiums from income”.
What Topics Should You Discuss with Aging Parents?
Perhaps your parent is talking about downsizing, taking a long cruise, claiming Social Security benefits, or a friend of theirs is entering long-term care. These situations provide optimal moments to address their future financial needs and ways you can help them plan. Planning is best in stages, from the least uncomfortable inquiries to the most. Questions may include but are not limited to:
- Where does your parent store their estate planning and financial documents? What do they own, and what do they owe?
- Ask for introductions to your parent’s various advisors. Being familiar with the estate attorney, financial consultants, insurance specialists, and more will make getting up to speed in a crisis moment much more manageable.
- Who are your parent’s medical professionals, including doctors, and can you best contact them? Copy or create a current list of their prescriptions and find out what pharmacy they use.
- Inquire about long-term care planning. What type of care does your parent prefer if they need help with activities of daily living such as bathing, toileting, dressing? Do they want to remain in their home or move closer to family? Do they envision moving into a retirement community? Is their current financial situation secure enough to pursue the high cost of long-term care?
- What are your parent’s wishes regarding end-of-life care, including advance medical directives encompassing living will, power of attorney, and health care proxy? In a medical crisis, these documents will provide the legal right and medical guidance for you to make choices that reflect your parent’s desires.
- Does your parent want a funeral, and have they made those plans? Is there money to cover these expenses?
How your parent responds to these inquiries will indicate their understanding of their financial situation. Suppose the answers they provide do not seem to map out their reality. In that case, you will need to carefully read through their most recent financial statements and other relevant documents to understand how to help them realistically.
When You Should Seek an Elder Law Attorney for Your Aging Loved Ones?
If their financial situation is complex, it may be time to consider consolidating their assets and begin Medicaid planning with their elder law attorney to conserve assets in a trust. The sooner these assets are legally protected, the faster your parent can become eligible for federal assistance, mainly to avoid the five-year lookback rule.
Your actions as their financial advocate permit you to mirror your parent’s values and preferences when guiding their financial decisions. Elder law attorneys often have a client fill out an “instructions for my advisor” form permitting attorney discussion among the adult children or power of attorney. This form is helpful to address the issue of clients exhibiting changes in behaviors and the expression of different desires from previously stated objectives.
Other relevant service providers such as a parent’s insurance company have similar “designation of representative” or “authorization to release information” forms that permit discussions about the parent’s account. Filling out these relevant forms provides needed access to data and lets you make more informed decisions.
The Importance of Establishing Financial Advocates for Aging Seniors
If your parent does not have a designated financial advocate, now is the time to select one. Usually, this person is a family member or trusted friend, bonded and insured, or at least under the oversight of a third-party professional. This advocate will assist with the parent’s primary financial responsibilities such as:
- Daily financial management
- Health insurance and other insurance policy management
- Investment and retirement income sources management in concert with the parent’s financial advisor
- Home and other property management
Starting these financial conversations and early planning will maximize your older parent’s independence and provide them some peace of mind. When all involved parties understand and agree to the strategies, you will have streamlined the process, and your parent will experience the best outcomes possible.