Dear Savvy Senior,
My pastor recently suggested that I become informed on my elderly parents financial situation and end-of-life plans so I can be better prepared when something happens to them. What's the best way to handle this and what all do I need to find out?
Most adult children don't know much about their parents financial situation or end-of-life plans, but they need to. Getting up to speed on your elderly parent's finances, insurance policies, long-term care plans and other information is important because some day you might have to help them handle their financial affairs or care, or execute their estate plan after they die. Without this information, your job becomes much more difficult.
Have the talk
If you're uncomfortable starting up a conversation like this with your parents, see TheConversationProject.org for guidance. It's also a good idea to get your siblings or other family members involved. This can help you head off possible hard feelings, plus, with others involved, your parents will know everyone is concerned.
When you meet with your parents, you'll need to sit down and create several lists of important information, find out where they keep key documents and how they want certain things handled when they die or if they become incapacitated. Here's a checklist of areas you need to focus on:
Contacts: Make a list of names and phone numbers of close friends, clergy, doctors, lawyer, accountant, broker, tax preparer, insurance agent, etc.
Personal documents: Find out where they keep their Social Security cards, marriage license, military discharge papers, etc.
Secured places: Make a list of places they keep under lock-and-key or protected by password, such as online accounts, safe deposit boxes, safe combination, security alarms, etc.
Service providers: Make a list of the companies or people who provide them regular services like utility companies, lawn service, etc.
Medical information: Make a copy of their medical history (any drug allergies, past surgeries) and a list of medications they take.
Pets: If they have a pet, what are their instructions for the animal's care?
End of life: What are their wishes for organ or body donations, and their funeral instructions? If they've made pre-arrangements with a funeral home, get a copy of the agreement.
Will: Do they have an updated will or trust, and where is it located?
Power of attorney: Do they have a power of attorney document that names someone to handle their financial matters if they become incapacitated?
Advance directives: Do they have a living will and a medical power of attorney that spells out their wishes regarding their end-of-life medical treatment?
Income and debt: Make a list of their income sources such as pensions, Social Security, IRAs, 401Ks, investments, etc. Do the same for any debt (mortgage, credit cards, medical bills) they may have.
Financial accounts: Make a list of the banks and brokerage accounts they use (checking, savings, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, IRAs) and their contact information.
Company benefits: Make a list of any retirement plans, pensions or benefits from their former employer including the contact information of the benefits administrator.
Insurance: Make a list of the insurance policies they have (life, long-term care, home, auto, Medicare) including policy numbers.
Property: Make a list of the real estate, vehicles or other properties they own, and where they keep the deeds and titles.
Credit cards: Make a list of all their credit and charge cards, including the card numbers and contact information.
Taxes: Find out where they keep copies of past year's tax returns.
For more information, call the Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116 and ask them to mail you a free copy of their publication "Let's Talk: Starting the Conversation about Health, Legal, Financial and End-of-Life Issues," or you can read online at eldercare.gov.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of "The Savvy Senior" book.