Guest article by Attorney Christine Brown
Although there may be several awkward “talks” we have with our parents in our lifetime, the one regarding their estate planning documents and financial situation is certainly one of the most important (as they age).
Aging parents are often reluctant to initiate a dialogue with their children about their financial status and their estate planning wishes, such as who will see to it that their wishes are fulfilled when and if they become incapacitated, or after they are gone.
How do you start “the talk” with your parents? Here are a few suggestions to encourage the conversation:
Late-in-life medical care may require the family to pull together and even offer direct personal and financial aid to their elderly parents. It is not only the responsibility of the parent(s) to have planned along the way, but it is in everyone’s best interest to anticipate and address the financial hurdles sooner rather than later.
Not putting a plan in place becomes, essentially, planning by default.
This can lead to some painful consequences.
It is important to be financially prepared should you become disabled. Many couples are forced into bankruptcy when the household income is suddenly insufficient to meet financial obligations. Look into eligibility for Long Term Care Insurance, which (depending on the plan) will pay for in-home care, assisted living, or a skilled nursing facility. Without it, many couples are forced to rely on the Medi-Cal Long Term Care Program once their assets have been depleted.
Estate Planning Documents
Most married couples have the mistaken belief that they can make financial and health care decisions for one another should either spouse become incapacitated. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Your parents should understand that unless they have already legally nominated their spouse to be their Agent to make decisions (personal and financial) in the event of their disability, all financial and health care decisions come to a screeching halt. Also, parents need to name alternate Agents to act on their behalf in the event the “well” spouse passes away or becomes unable to act as the Agent.
[U]nless [your parents] have already legally nominated their spouse to be their Agent …
all financial and health care decisions come to a screeching halt.
If your parent’s disability has affected their mental capacity, they can no longer legally sign a durable power of attorney (for financial decisions) or an advanced health care directive (for medical and end of life decisions). If no powers of attorney are already in place once they become mentally incapacitated, a family member must petition the court to be appointed their conservator, which is an expensive and time-consuming process that will continue until the incapacitated parent’s death.
Fortunately, a conservatorship can be avoided. The key is to make these arrangements before calamity strikes. In order avert a crisis in your family; be sure your parent has prepared the following documents:
- Durable Power of Attorney;
- Advanced Health Care Directive; and
- Medical Information Release.
These legal documents need not be overly complicated, but they are important to have in place and at the ready.
Parents Refuse To Discuss Their Financial and Legal Affairs
What if your parents are reluctant to discuss their financial and legal affairs with you? Try asking them to prepare a confidential “memo” containing the answers to the following 10 questions.
- What estate planning documents have you prepared?
- Where do you keep your original estate planning documents?
- Who is your estate-planning attorney? (Include name, address, telephone number, and website.)
- Who is your financial advisor? (Include name, address, telephone number, and website.)
- Where do you keep their financial records?
- Who is your accountant? (Include name, address, telephone number. and website.)
- What kind of medical insurance do you have in addition to Medicare? Where are your insurance cards and policies?
- What are your monthly expenses?
- What is the total amount of your monthly income? What are the sources of your income?
- If you can no longer live on your own, where do you want to live and what can you afford in terms of housing?
Remind them to tell you where to find this “memo” in a case of an emergency or death. This memo can also be left with a “trusted” third party, such as the estate-planning attorney; a parent’s sibling; or a longtime friend.
Whatever you do, inform your parents of these concerns and encourage them not to put this planning on the back burner! If they wait and it is too late, it will put additional financial and emotional stress on the “well” parent and all members of the family.
Christine Brown is a 1992 graduate of the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law. Her firm concentrates on elder law with an emphasis on Medi-Cal long-term care planning and the concerns of the elderly, including estate planning, special needs trusts, trust administration, probate, and conservatorships. Please visit Christine’s website, which contains information on elder law and estate planning issues. Sign up for her free monthly e-newsletter.