Planning for Your Parents (aka- The Sandwich Situation)
Recognizing your parents are aging and won’t live forever is not an easy realization to mull over. Talking with them about it can feel even worse. And even if you can get that conversation going, you may find they still view you as their little girl or baby boy and either don’t want to talk to you about it or don’t want you to worry. But with the baby boomer’s aging, many adult children are finding out their parents failed to plan for incapacity and are now struggling to determine what their parents would want, since the parents can no longer decide for themselves. Or the parents have capacity, but the adult children are struggling to figure out how to help their parents cover growing medical costs and needs, while taking care of their own families.
And what if you live in Florida, your siblings live in Washington and Louisiana, and your aging parent can no longer live alone, who gets a new roommate? Or is it time to consider Assisted Living? What if a sibling refuses to get involved or help? Not so surprisingly, adult children usually struggle to agree on every aspect of caring for their parents and their parent’s finances- leading to arguments and resentment that may never heal.
These are just a few of the reasons that talking with them now, while they’re alive and well, is so vitally important. Make a plan. Stay in communication (things can change). And recognize that your parent is still an adult and their wishes and desires should be a major factor in the decisions being made that affect their daily lives.
So now that you understand the importance of talking, what should you say?
Here are a few good topics to start with:
What Estate Planning Have They Done So Far?
Do your parents have Wills? A Trust? Named beneficiaries or pay-on-death/transfer-on-death accounts? What about joint accounts with rights of survivorship?
You’ll also need to discuss who your parents have chosen to handle their lives and estate. The Personal Representative will be the one taking charge of all your parents’ assets on their death, but you’ll need to know who they have chosen for their Power of Attorney and Health Care Surrogate as well. Those roles come into play while your parents are alive.
If they don’t yet have an estate plan (or a Power of Attorney or Health Care Surrogate), ask how you can help them get this done (and follow up to make sure all needed documents are completed and signed!).
Let them know that by getting everything set up now, when they do pass—or if there is a health emergency that requires someone to step in and make decisions—you and the family can focus on their needs while alive or process your grief in their passing, without any family fights over what could have or should have happened. Trust us, people get weird when loved ones pass away.
If They Do Have Documents/A Plan Where Are These Documents Located?
None of your conversations will matter if you don’t know where to find the necessary documents when they’re needed. And in the middle of an emergency, your brain will not be processing which box in which closet your mother mentioned she kept important documents.
It’s also worth noting that both the Personal Representative and Agent (under the Power of Attorney) have a huge role to fill in managing their parents’ assets and or estate. Either role will be responsible to gather all of the financial documents, pay the bills, and handle the assets or estate per your parents’ wishes. If the individuals in these roles can’t find all the necessary documents – including not only the Will or Trust, but also information for every single financial account, as well as anything else that needs to be managed or “closed down,” such as social media accounts – their job will be challenging. We call this “the morbid scavenger hunt”.
One solution is to have your parents put together a file that includes:
A list of all the account numbers, institutions, and any login information for all of their financial accounts, including bank and investment accounts
Legal documents, including their Will, Power of Attorney, Advanced Directives, and Trust information (Worley Elder Law actually prepares a binder for our estate packages to hold all the suggested items listed- think of it as an “instruction manual” for your parents’ lives and wishes)
Information and contact details for any life insurance policies, pensions, and Social Security claims
Titles to all assets, including vehicles and homes
Medical information- including current doctors, conditions, and medications being taken
Any post-death contracts (prepaid burial/cremation, or donation of body for scientific purposes- yes, this is important!)
Social Security cards and birth certificates
Credit card information, outstanding debts, and any recurring expenses and payments, such as subscriptions or memberships
Think of it this way, what information would be needed for you to step into your parents’ shoes and handle their business as they would if they weren’t incapacitated?
Do They Want A Funeral?
I was having a conversation with someone recently who mentioned their mother had passed away. The mother had not pre-planned or left instructions on what was desired, so the family was left to figure things out on their own. This person and their siblings went to the funeral home to make the arrangements and in the end, spent tens of thousands of dollars on a rather extravagant event that this person noted seemed more like the reception at a wedding. Odds are, the mother would not have wished for her children to spend so much money, just to say goodbye. There are other instances where a parent will express a wish to be cremated instead of buried, but never mention anything beyond that. So then the grieving family is left to figure out what to do with the ashes (by the way- you CANNOT release ashes at Disney World! Just wanted to share.)
While funerals/celebrations of life are really for those left behind, if your parents leave no instructions about their wishes, you may be left struggling with doubt about whether you made the decisions they would have wanted—in addition to the grief you’re already experiencing. So make sure to have this conversation before it’s too late.
As noted above, it’s also a good idea to ask if your parents have prepaid for their burial/cremation (funeral insurance or ownership of a particular burial plot). If they have, be sure to know where copies of the contract are located before you need them. It’s not uncommon that parent’s will prearrange, not tell their families, parent dies, family calls a different funeral home (because isn’t that always the way?), and then family finds the prepaid contract. We have never seen a contract refunded simply because the family didn’t know about it and paid someone else.
Are you ready to learn more or need to get your parents properly prepared? Don’t hesitate, we’re here to assist you and your family!