It is a sober fact that you need to face: Your parents aren’t getting any younger.
In fact, the day is coming when they may not be able to drive themselves, walk up or down stairways, or even provide for their own basic necessities. Ultimately, you may become their decision-maker, or at the very least, their top assistant. You will want to honor your parents’ wishes, but to do so, you have to learn about their intentions so that you can assist them to achieve their long-term goals.
The key to making well-reasoned decisions for your parents, or even to assist them to make their own decisions, is to gather the necessary information ahead of time. This will be a process. You might even get some resistance from your parents. However, it is well worth the investment of your time and energy.
Trust me, you do not want to be running around searching for your parents’ legal documents or trying to figure out contact information for their doctor in a time of crisis.
Compare These Two Situations:
(1) Susan has lived alone for several years since the death of her husband. She has two adult children, and she has openly discussed her long-term intentions with both of them. She and her two children regularly hold family meetings. As a result, they have gathered and organized all important contact information, health care, legal, and financial documents in one secure place. They have collectively meet with Susan’s physicians, attorney, and accountant about her long-term goals. Should Susan’s health rapidly decline or unexpectedly fail, she has a “team” and a plan in place.
(2) Jim has lived alone for several years since the death of his wife. Jim has adult children, but he has never informed them of his long-term goals. Jim has always handled his own finances, and he distrusts “interference” from anyone. He has money in different bank accounts, has safety deposit boxes in still other banks, and has online investments. He never made a list of which banks he uses. He never wrote down his passwords to his online accounts. He also never bothered to create legal documents like an advance health care directive or power of attorney. Without prior warning, Jim has a sudden devastating stroke and he is left without the ability to talk or walk. Jim’s children have no idea about his long-term plan or his financial assets, and because of the effects of his stroke, they can’t easily communicate with him. Due to the lack of legal documents, they have no ability to act on his behalf.
Which approach seems better to you?
For me, the answer is clear. Susan had the better approach. For her and for her family.
You and your parents should proactively collect, organize, and review all of their important documents and necessary life care information.
Do this before you make any major decisions so that you are fully informed, and also, fully prepared to act if the unexpected happens. Your preparation will eliminate chaos and uncertainty so that you can make intelligent, reasoned decisions in the moment, and can also spend more valuable time directly with your parents.
A Helpful Checklist
This checklist will assist you and your parents to ensure that you have gathered the necessary information:
- Important personal documents
- Birth Certificate
- Driver’s License
- Social Security Card
- Marriage License
- Medicare/Medicaid/Health Insurance Cards
- Organ Donor Card
- Credit Cards and/or Bank ATM Cards
- Important Legal Documents
- Last Will & Testament
- Power of Attorney
- Living Will
- Advance Healthcare Directives
- Deeds and Mortgage Documents
- Car Titles, Registrations, and Auto Insurance Documents
- Life Insurance Documents
- Employee Benefit and Pension Plan Documents
- Military Records/Documents (Health or Disability Benefits)
- Recent Federal and State Income Tax Returns
- Important Information to Collect
- List of regular prescription medications, dosages, physician, and pharmacy
- Contact information for close friends, including address and telephone numbers
- Contact information for clergy, physician, pharmacy, attorney, accountant, financial planner, tax advisor, insurance broker, realtor, employee benefit/pension plan representative, and funeral home
- List of all sources of income (pension, trust, retirement accounts, inheritance, etc.)
- List of all bank accounts and other financial accounts, including location of passbooks, checkbooks, certificates of deposit, and safety deposit boxes and keys.
- List of all insurance accounts, including health, life, auto, homeowner, and renter policies
- List of any debts/liabilities with supporting documents
- List of all active credit accounts, including mortgage, home equity loans, bank credit lines, utilities, department stores, and credit cards
- List of passwords to all electronic digital accounts, including financial accounts and social media accounts.
- Details of desired funeral arrangements, including burial plot
- Contact information for intended beneficiaries, including addresses and telephone numbers
I know this seems like a lot of work. It is. However, by assembling this information now, before an immediate crisis, you will spare yourself confusion and frustration, and you will free yourself up to spend precious time with your parents – while you are still able.
As always, if you have questions about elder law, please call. I am here to help.