It's that time of year again. No matter what your religion or traditions, you may be planning to use time off from work to visit with family including your parents. Some children will notice their parents slipping – unable to process things the way they used to. Other parents will appear just fine but you'll still worry about the what-ifs.
AgingParents.com did an article listing “5 Things You Need To Do After A Holiday Visit With Aging Parents.” Depending upon how prepared your parents are, you could go through these five keys in five minutes or, at the other end of the spectrum, you may need to schedule a family meeting and another visit.
First, find out what legal planning documents your parents have. If they have not been reviewed in the last three years or if your parents don't have any, help your folks find an estate planning attorney in their state who can help them make sure they have an effective plan in place. Because every family is unique, I won't attempt to list every legal document they might need, but here are some of the most frequently necessary:
- Revocable living trust: this trust can ensure your parents will avoid the need for a financial Guardianship or Conservatorship in the event one of them becomes disabled. The trust can also make Probate unnecessary after a parent dies, saving the family stress, strain, delays and money.
- Will: when there is a revocable living trust in place, the will just leaves everything to the trust. If, however, your parents have opted to plan without a revocable living trust, the Will is the key document that determines who gets what. It does not provide protection against the need for a financial Guardianship or Conservatorship, and it does not avoid Probate.
- Durable Financial Power of Attorney: this document can vary from 4 pages to 30 pages long or more. Generally, the longer the document the more thorough it is. This gives someone – probably the other parent and then one of the children – the power to manage financial matters for a parent who can't manage them for himself or herself. The choice of who will have these powers can make the difference between realistic convenience (the more people you name to act together, the harder it is to coordinate efforts) and maintenance of sibling bonds versus a logistical mess between siblings who will never speak to each other again. A good estate planning attorney will offer a family meeting to answer questions and make everyone comfortable with the order of names on the various lists.
- Healthcare Power of Attorney: also called a Healthcare Directive in some states, this document authorizes someone else (again, perhaps a family meeting makes sense) to make healthcare decisions for the person who is unable to make them for themselves.
- HIPAA Release: the Healthcare Information Portability and Accountability Act imposed punitive fines on any healthcare provider who releases any of a patient's confidential information to some one else. Your parents can make an exception to those penalties for information released to authorized people. Without this document, it's possible that if your father is admitted to the hospital, no one – including your mother – will be able to find him because hospitals will not release the information of whether or not he has been admitted.
We estate planning attorneys have piles of other documents at our disposal. We can provide the kids with lifelong asset protection. We can avoid or reduce estate taxes. We can help a parent qualify for nursing home benefits. We can get creative and ensure just about any goal your parent imagines is met – or at least encouraged and supported. But the documents above are an absolute minimum that everyone should have. Even you!
Second, you could scope out whether they have thought about how they will get help to manage at home when they need it. A lucky few have long-term-care insurance policies that cover at-home care. If your parents are in that lucky few, make sure everyone in the family has the policy information so it's not lost when it's needed. If they don't, then a sit-down about finances and the cost of at-home help is the only way you can be sure your parents won't have to move into a nursing home as soon as things get a little tricky for them.
Third, have the conversation with your parents about alternative living arrangements. There are many lovely facilities that provide light assistance (cooking, cleaning) for those who need only that and that offer a nursing home on the same property for people who need more care.
Fourth, consider whether your parents would benefit from assistance with paying bills and managing finances. If they would, work out a solid plan with your siblings and approach your parents with a united offer of help.
Fifth, find out what to do if a health emergency arises. Where do they keep their Healthcare Power of Attorney and HIPAA Releases? Should you keep a copy? (Probably – but make sure it stays up to date.) Where do they keep their medicines? Create a list of their doctors, each one's specialty and their phone numbers.
“Holidays can be so busy, it may be easier to just overlook any danger signs you see with aging parents. Here’s hoping you won’t overlook anything. Take a deep breath, prepare yourself to face these responsibilities and lead the way. As your parents continue to age, you will feel much greater confidence when you are prepared. And as I tell my husband, the work of being prepared good modeling for our own kids. I want them to have it easy and know just what to do when it’s our turn to be the aging and maybe frail parents. According to our 20-something kids, we’re already the aging parents!”
The list may seem daunting but with the assistance of any siblings and an estate planning or elder law attorney, you can broach these delicate topics from an educated and caring position.