Have You Talked to Your Parents Recently?

Dec. 7, 2012

“Have You Talked to Your Parents Lately? “

Since the Holiday Season is common for family gatherings, now may be the appropriate time to consider and discuss with family members and aging parents some Elder Care Planning Issues. These issues are many times sensitive and difficult to bring up. Here are some suggestions on how to handle this subject:

Keep the lines of communication open
As the adult child of aging parents, have you talked to your parents about retirement living options, lifestyle security, creating wills and trusts, legal and financial issues, and funeral wishes and arrangements? If the situation arises, do you know where to their important records?

If you’ve answered ‘no’ to any of these questions, you’re not alone. It’s tough to watch your parents age and lose the ability to manage their own affairs, much less step in and help them out especially when finances are concerned. The reversal of roles is so striking that even discussing it raises a spectrum of difficult emotional issues involving independence, pride and privacy.

What are some of the Warning Signs?
Before an emergency strikes, there are subtle signs adult children can look for even if their parents seem mentally sharp. Concerns about money, unopened bills, numerous checks written to the same charity, a messy house, or old/no food in the refrigerator could also be early symptoms of memory loss or dementia.

How do you to bring up the subject?
Fortunately, planning ahead for unforeseen circumstances can be implemented with the simple act of communication. While an indirect, subtle approach is advised, each parent/child relationship is different and therefore a more direct, candid approach could be used. Usually the adult child in the family with the strongest emotional ties to the parents acts as the “quarterback” on long-term planning and care issues. Then if an emergency does occur, the adult child is prepared and able to ensure that his parent’s needs are being met and reduces some of the stress that can accompany crisis situations.

The most important issue to hash out is making sure someone in the family has access to financial information, including health and life insurance policy numbers and contact information, bank accounts and credit card information, details about financial planners, attorney’s, CPA’s and the location of their will. Find out what your parent’s preferences are should they no longer be able to care for themselves.

When is the "Right Time" to bring up these issues?
Although sensitive, the best time to discuss these subjects is long before they are needed. The biggest mistake families make is waiting too long. Conversation with parents many times begin when one parent is in a medical crisis or dies. With the upcoming holidays and many family gatherings, NOW is the perfect time to bring up these subjects.

The single most important issue amongst seniors is protecting their independence, so it is important to let your aging parents know that taking control of their finances is in their best interest and will help protect their dignity, safety and quality of life. This planning may take some time, and many adult children with aging parents are facing this same situation. Their careers and raising their own families make it difficult to see if their parent’s needs are continually being met. However, you should take the time to discuss your parent’s long-term planning needs so that you will have greater peace of mind knowing that at least, their financial and housing needs will be met as they age. Then, sit down with them once a year thereafter to review their monthly income and expenses (and adjust them if necessary) to ensure they are still financially fit.

James L. Hintzke is a Certified Public Accountant and Certified Senior Advisor, specializing in Elder Care Planning for seniors and their adult children for over 25 years and is the owner of James L. Hintzke, CPA, S.C. located at 15855 W. National Avenue in the National Professional Building in New Berlin. For more information about ElderCare Planning Issues, call (262) 797-8442 or visit www.jhintzke-cpa.com.

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