Whether you have an elderly parent or you are elderly yourself, you must begin a conversation with your loved ones about how to handle the future. An initial one-on-one conversation between the elder parent and his or her child should begin the process of what needs to be considered. Here's what to ask about...
*Understand one's reticence at losing control:
It's only natural that a person who has been in control of his financial life doesn't want to lose control. Being sensitive to this is first and foremost.
But as time goes on, old age can trigger a sequence of physical and emotional losses such as hearing, eyesight, mobility, memory, as well as friendships. And these can undermine a person's ability to competently handle his affairs and wishes.
It's best to gradually build up to creating a plan that the elder parent can warm up to. Begin by raising questions that the elder can consider for future conversations. Begin before a real crisis occurs.
Make it clear that you're not taking over control, but only want to be aware of how things are handled so when trouble handling things occur, you can help your parent in the way he would want.
Ask how the household finances are handled. Ask if all the bills are getting paid on time, and are things arranged as conveniently as possible. Are investments being monitored enough and can you help under the control of the elder?
Perhaps you can suggest using automatic teller machines, direct deposit of Social Security benefit checks, and automatic bill paying to improve his security and convenience in handling day-to-day affairs.
Ask how the parent sees the possible growth of long term care needs. How should they be handled as typical care needs arise? How should they be paid for?
Explain the costs they can generate and the effect that can have on the parent's wishes for themselves and what he or she'd like to leave as a legacy. Medicare doesn't handle long term care costs. Perhaps long term care insurance should be bought, or a plan for transferring some wealth so Medicaid can help pick up eventual significant long term care costs.
*Handling estate planning:
Ask how the parent would like financial and medical decisions handled if he or she becomes incapacitated. Ask how he'd eventually like his assets transferred, which ones to whom.
You can suggest updating a will, or use a trust for managing and passing assets. Mention that a power of attorney can allow the parent to designate a specific individual to make financial or legal decisions on his behalf. And a health care proxy does the same for medical decisions when the parent is incapable.