Have you had the hard discussion? Are you prepared to handle difficult decisions on behalf of your aging parent? Do you know what legal planning they should have in place? You can’t predict when something might happen to your aging parent, so preparation will help in making legal and medical decisions for your loved one. Here are some questions you should ask and discuss.
1. Do You Have a Durable Power of Attorney?
A durable power of attorney designates who will take care of your affairs if you are unable to decide for yourself in the case of mental or physical incapacitation. Seniors can designate a person to handle health decisions (the medical power of attorney) and another for financial decisions (the general power of attorney) or they can designate the same person for both roles.
2. What Are Your End-of-Life Wishes?
In addition to asking how your parent wishes their remains to be handled, you might also ask about how things should be handled before they die. A living will, also known as a directive to physicians and family, is used to indicate choices about end-of-life care. For instance: Would you want a ventilator and feeding tube used to keep you alive even in an irreversible coma or if you are terminally ill? Does your agent under your medical power of attorney know about these wishes?
3. Do You Have a Will or Living Trust?
Wills and living trusts are the legal methods used to designate what happens to your possessions and money after you pass. A will simply specifies, in writing, who gets what and how much. A living trust is an alternative to a will and takes effect immediately. Each has its own benefits and detriments.
4. Do You Have Long-Term Care Insurance or Another Plan in Case Long-Term Care is Required?
The statewide average for a nursing home semi-private room in Texas is around $135 according to Own Your Future. Private rooms are more expensive. In some regions it’s much higher. This can decimate a senior’s nest egg rapidly, so it’s important to know if your parent has insurance to offset these costs, or some other plan in place should long-term-care needs arise. If your parent does have long-term insurance, read the policy to make sure you understand it. Call the insurer if you have questions about what is and is not covered.
5. Do You Have a List of All the Usernames and Passwords for Accounts You Have – Particularly Online Access Accounts?
Increasingly, online access to every type of account requires a username and password. That information may be essential to the proper handling of an account. Critical information may be unavailable or lost if access is not available. Everyone should have a list somewhere secure of all those usernames and passwords.
6. Have You Made Sure That These Documents Are Current?
All of the documents I’ve mentioned need to be up-to-date and current for them to work properly. Encourage your parent to revisit estate planning and care planning measures each year. Be sure they consult with their estate planning attorney if changes are needed.
7. Where Can I Find These Documents If I Ever Need Them?
It doesn’t do any good for your parent to have these documents in order if they can’t be found in an emergency. Make sure you know where they are and how to get to them. For example, if they’re in a safe deposit box, see to it that a trusted family member has a key and permission to access the box. If they’re in a fire-safe, someone besides the parent should have the combination.
8. Is Someone Advising You on Important Matters?
Older parents are often fiercely independent regarding their affairs, which is understandable. Even so, it’s important to know who is advising your parents regarding financial, insurance, tax, accounting and legal decisions. This knowledge will not only allow you to reach the adviser in case of an emergency, but also gives you a chance to make sure your parent is working with someone who is reputable.
9. If You Can No Longer Take Care of Yourself, Have You Thought About Where You’d Prefer Living?
Start the discussion about long-term care options before crisis hits. Get your parent involved early, and look at options before the need arises. This gives your parent an opportunity to provide input about preferences and to get involved in the process rather than having to passively accept arrangements hastily made at the last minute by well-meaning but uninformed loved ones. There are many reputable services that can make this process much less difficult.
10. Do You Visit the Doctor Regularly?
Your parent may be seeing several specialists in addition to a primary care physician. If your parent becomes hospitalized, information from one of these doctors could be critical. If possible, ask your parent to provide you a list of physicians seen regularly, and how to contact them. On the other hand, some seniors may have the opposite issue. In either case, this question can help prompt a meaningful discussion about your parent’s general health and well-being. Just as it’s important to know who your parent’s physicians are in case of emergency, it’s also important to know what medicines your parent takes. Being able to provide this information to hospital staff in case of a medical crisis can be vital to effective treatment.
Bottom line, if your parent is beginning to show signs of needing some assistance, it’s time to have that important discussion. I hope these questions will help stimulate and direct that discussion.