As your parents age and you start to notice memory loss or diminished sight or hearing, you might be quick to jump in and provide care and support. If you notice irrational investment or spending decisions, however, it probably feels harder to intervene to make sure their financial house is in order.
“The aging parent often contributes to this reluctance,” writes David Russell, senior vice president and trust officer with Pinnacle Trust Co., in his book What You Need to Know: The Adult Child’s Guide to Being a Financial Caregiver. “Opening up this part of their life is difficult, an admission that maybe they aren’t as sharp as they used to be.”
That’s why it’s important to start the conversation about their financial affairs before it’s too late. When you get involved sooner rather than later, you can get answers to important questions — What needs to be done? Who will be in charge? — without making your parents feel like you are completely taking over their physical and financial situation.
Getting the Conversation Started
If you are just getting started becoming the financial caregiver for your parents, here are a few questions to ask that will help you understand their current financial situation.
- What financial institutions hold their assets (e.g., bank, brokerage, and retirement accounts)?
- Do they work with any financial, legal or tax advisers? If so, how often?
- Do they need help paying monthly bills or assistance reviewing items such as credit card statements, medical receipts or property tax bills?
“To the extent that your parents are able, they should be kept involved,” Russell writes. “Staying involved as much as possible for as long as possible will also reduce any feeling of resentment for you having to step in. If possible, planning ahead makes the process easier.”
Preparing a Personal Data Record
These questions will help you prepare a personal data record in case something should happen. You should know where your parents keep all these items and make sure you can gain access if necessary. It’s also a good idea for you and the members of your caregiving circle to have copies of the most important documents. Here’s what should be included:
- Financial information, including bank, brokerage and retirement accounts (including account numbers, online usernames and passwords)
- Legal information, including wills, durable powers of attorney and advance health care directives
- Medical information, including health care providers, medication and medical history
- Insurance information, including policy numbers and company names
- Adviser information, including names and phone numbers of any professional service providers
- Location of other important records, such as Social Security cards, home and vehicle records, outstanding loan documents, and past tax returns
- Funeral and burial plans, including prepayment information and final wishes
“However you begin the conversation and no matter the reception you get, the point is that the adult child is (and should be) the first line of defense for his or her parents just as they were (or should have been) your first line of defense growing up,” Russell writes. “You can be an advocate, and you can be involved to ensure that their financial affairs continue to provide security and dignity in their twilight years.”