Get documents drafted. Your parents (and you, for that matter) need three legal documents to protect quality of life:
- A power of attorney for health care.
- A power of attorney for finances.
- Advance health directives [also known as a living will]
Having numerous bank and investment accounts makes it tough to properly monitor a financial situation. Discuss consolidating accounts to one or two institutions for easier administration. Setting up a financial aggregation tool, such as Mint, for their accounts can help you keep track, assuming your parents agree. If your parents are hesitant, let them know that Mint and similar tools don't give you access to the accounts, they just allow you to monitor what's going on.
It could be that your parents aren't hesitant at all and they're eager to add you to accounts so you're able to pay the bills and take care of other details. Being added to a checking account is typically not a problem, but talk to an estate-planning attorney before anyone is added to other accounts. Putting someone on an investment account or home deed can have tax or other repercussions. [note: if you’re added to their account, do not add your own money or co-mingle money, it may affect qualification for Medicaid, if that’s a route you may need to or want to go if your loved one enters a nursing home]. Remember, think at least 3-5 years down the road at this point. Check the costs of local nursing homes for pricing.
Assess those finances.
Getting an insight into your parents' money situation can help you gauge their options. If they eventually need help at home, can they afford a caregiver? If so, for how long? Do they have long-term care insurance that can help pay the bills? What services are available in their area, publicly funded or otherwise? There are websites that can point you to help with housing, utility bills, medications, meals, health insurance, caregiver services and more. Benefits Check Up, a site run by the National Council on Aging, offers a similar function.
Consider hiring a care manager.
These professionals can evaluate your parents' situation, offer suggestions for making their lives easier and put them in touch with services that may help them. These assessments typically cost a few hundred dollars and can start an invaluable relationship with a knowledgeable resource who can help you spot and solve problems as your parents age. The National Association of Social Workers is another resource for professionals who can help.
Meet their people.
Schedule a visit just to meet neighbors, friends, doctors and other professionals, such as their banker, lawyer and financial adviser. Give these people your contact information and get theirs. Ideally, your parents would encourage the people you meet to call you with any concerns. But just having met you could make these people more comfortable reaching out to you if there's an issue. Click here for a checklist to take with you when you visit, check the home for safety hazards such as trip hazards inside and outside.
Set aside some savings.
Last-minute plane flights and time off work can be expensive. Having an emergency fund can take away some of the stress of dealing with those costs.
Set up video chats.
Phone conversations may not be enough to alert you to problems, an IPad set up with FaceTime or a personal computer with Skype can help you see if your folks look disheveled or the house looks cluttered or dirty. People who are in cognitive decline don't take care of themselves very well, or their surroundings.
Take emotions into account
How cooperative will your parents be? I've had some people tell me how happy their parents were to discuss these matters and others whose folks were even more ornery than they anticipated. Your parents may be relieved, or they may be resentful, angry or even suspicious of your motives or simply in denial that they need help, or ever will. All you can do is your best.
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