Family communication helps aging parents
Helping aging parents manage their financial lives can be challenging. Family dynamics and legal constraints can make even simple tasks complex. If your parents are at a point where they struggle with their financial affairs, increasing your family communication can help them get the help they need.
Parents are sometimes reluctant to seek help even as bills go unpaid and credit ratings sink. Keep an eye open for signs of financial stress and look for opportune moments to ask how they are doing. If they sense you are asking out of a true desire to help them, they will be more likely to open up.
Siblings can also be a challenge. You may feel that some of your siblings are not equipped with the necessary skills or temperament to help care for your parents. Some siblings may be emotionally distant or even estranged from the family. To the degree possible, reach out and keep them informed. Trying to communicate early in the process will pay big dividends later when critical decisions need to be made.
An effective way to facilitate family communication is to organize regular family meetings. It is usually best if parents call the first meeting, but that may not always be possible. As you plan the family meeting set realistic goals about what you want to accomplish. Try to pace the meeting to match the ability of your family members to deal effectively with the material. A family with a history of good communication can probably get through more in one sitting than a family that never talks. Most families will do better if they hold a series of shorter, more focused meetings. By including participants in the creation of the agenda, you will get a sense of which approach is better for your family.
You will want to do some preparatory work before your first meeting. Work with your parents and their advisors to pull together a summary of their current situation. If your parents are uncooperative, you may not be able to get very far. However, if they are open to your help, try to get answers to some basic questions: What is their income by source? What are their monthly expenses? How are their investment accounts titled? Who are the beneficiaries on retirement accounts and insurance policies? Who is listed on the deed to their home? Answering these questions will help you better understand your parents’ resources and will also help you protect them from elder abuse.
You will also want to review your parents’ health situation, including how much physical care they need. Is their health insurance coverage adequate? How independent are they now and how is that likely to change in coming years? If they become less independent, how will their care be paid for? Will they need family support and if so, how much? With long-term care, the burden of care often falls on the daughters in the family. Is the family prepared for that? Starting the discussion before a crisis hits will allow the family time to work through the issues in a more constructive way.
Finally, make sure your parents’ essential estate documents are up to date and reflect your parents’ desires. This includes having a current will, a durable power of attorney for healthcare and designated healthcare proxy. If the documents have been around for a while, it is a good idea to have them reviewed by an estate planning attorney. For example, durable powers of attorney for health care must be HIPPA-compliant to be effective. If the document was created before 2001, it may not be HIPPA-compliant and may not work as your parents want it to.
Caring for parents in their final years of life can be challenging, but it can also bring great joy. Increasing family communication can help your parents get the help they need.
Steven C. Merrell MBA, CFP®, AIF® is a Partner at Monterey Private Wealth, Inc., an independent wealth management firm in Monterey. He welcomes questions you may have concerning investments, taxes, retirement, or estate planning. Send your questions to: Steve Merrell, 2340 Garden Road Suite 202, Monterey, CA 93940 or email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.