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How to Help Your Aging Parents

How to make arrangements for estate plans and finances – Pro tip: The sooner, the better


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Many of us are grappling with how to best care for our aging parents. In addition to figuring out how to address a myriad of medical issues, you might also be struggling with how to help your parents navigate their finances.

I was very lucky that my father included me in he and my mother’s finances when they were in their 70s. There wasn’t any secrecy or surprises with what parents owned or their plans for their estates. So, by the time my dad had a debilitating stroke at age 84, I knew what to do.

But not all of us have parents who are such careful planners.

If your parents haven’t talked to you about how they plan to handle their finances if they should suddenly become unable to manage that task, then now is the time to start the conversation. If you don’t, you may be left with too little information, especially if you find your loved ones facing dementia or a catastrophic illness.

It can be as simple as asking if they have a will or estate plan. If they have one, the obvious next question would be how to contact the attorney who created the plan in case questions arise. You’ll also need to know where the will or estate plan is located and how to access that information.

If, however, your parents don’t have a will, that is even more reason to start having a conservation about finances as soon as possible. Going through the probate process is a nightmare and it will certainly hold up any disbursements of assets in a timely manner.

The first step is finding a good and reasonably-priced estate planning attorney, which can take a little digging. Referrals are the best way to start. Your parents can ask friends and family if they have an attorney they trust and would recommend. If you work with an estate planning attorney who you like and trust, you could certainly ask them if they can prepare an estate plan for your parents. Just be sure to choose an attorney who is familiar with estate tax policy in the particular state where your parents reside. Certainly, using the internet to search for local estate planning attorneys is another option.

Another key question is to determine who in your family has the medical power of attorney to make health-care decisions for your parents in the case of a medical emergency? Most likely it is the other spouse, but that may not always be the best choice, particularly if that other spouse is also medically challenged.

The most likely person to give the medical power of attorney responsibility to is usually the eldest child in the family or the child who lives closest to the parents.

You’ll also need to figure out who has financial power of attorney to make all financial decisions and pay the bills if need be. Someone needs to be responsible for handling the money. One answer could be joint checking accounts with both a parent and child as co-signers. Unfortunately, some banks make you go into the local branch with your parent to prove there is no fraud involved in adding a child to the account, which could be complicated if your parents live out of state.

Responsibility for brokerage accounts will also need to be addressed. It is important for your parents to double check who the beneficiaries are on all their retirement accounts and whether loved ones can access fund from those accounts if necessary. Make sure you have contact information for the firm or individual advisors managing those accounts.

If your parents are in good shape mentally, they may feel like these questions are an invasion of their privacy or they may think you are being unnecessarily selfish and greedy. They simply may not want you knowing their “financial business” until they deem it is the right time to tell you. The problem with this mindset is that by the time they are ready to share this information, it is probably too late. It certainly would have been in my case. There is no magic age, but if I were to guess, I would say talk to your parents if they are in their mid-60s to mid-70s.  

You might find that asking these questions may actually bring you closer to your parents because they may be relieved that you care and want to help in a time of extreme difficulty or duress. Like death and taxes there is no good time to bring up these sensitive issues; however, the alternative of scrambling after the fact is far worse.

 

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Fred Taylor

Fred Taylor is president and co-founder of Northstar Investment Advisors, LLC. The firm specializes in managing personalized investment portfolios for individuals, families, and retirees with a focus on income generation. He is a member of the Colorado Forum and also served as an economic advisor to Colorado Governor Bill Ritter from 2008 to 2010.

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