2008-01-02 / Seniors

Discuss Financial, Legal, Care Issues With Parents

Dear Savvy Senior,

Can you provide some tips that can help me find out how my elderly parents are doing financially and what, if any, plans they've made for long-term care? I don't want to pry into their affairs or offend them, but I do want to know what's going on, so when something happens to one of them, I can be prepared.

In The Dark

Dear In:

Most adult children don't know much about their parents' financial situation, whether they have enough money to live on or to pay for the care they may need some day. And most families have not had discussions about their end of life issues, and what preparations they have made. But they need to, and they should!

Important Talk

Discussing financial, legal and longterm care decisions with older parents can be difficult and awkward, especially if you've never done it before. Many seniors consider financial matters to be private, and have no interest in discussing them, even with their kids. To help with this, the MetLife Mature Market Institute offers 10 tips for making money talks with parents a little easier. To start:

1. Don't put it off. It's best to initiate the conversation while your parents are still in good health. If you're uncomfortable starting the conversation use this column as a prompter.

2. Team up. Involve your siblings and other family members in the discussion with your parents. This can help you head off possible hard feelings. Plus, with family members involved, your folks will know everyone is concerned, not just you.

3. Explain your intentions. Let your parents know that you are starting this discussion because you're concerned and you want to make sure you do the right things as they age.

4. Don't take over. Your parents still have the need and right to make their own decisions. Try not to take that sense of control away from them.

5. Agree to disagree. You and your parents may disagree with each other on what they may need, but don't force your opinion on them. Unless their health or safety is on the line, respect their decisions.

6. Communicate clearly. Try to avoid offering advice. Instead, focus on presenting options. Include your parents in the discussion by asking for their ideas. Instead of telling them what to do, try to express your concerns.

7. Ask about important documents. Know where your parents' insurance policies, wills, healthcare proxies, living wills, trust documents, tax returns and investment and banking records are located. You can start by asking them where they keep their papers, and who you should contact in case they're in an accident or are incapacitated. This approach can also provide you with an opening to discuss what provisions they've made and what still needs to be done.

8. Provide them with information. Act as a search engine for your parents by giving them materials to read and helping them find important resources to assist them such as: BenefitsCheckUp (www.benefitscheckup.org), a comprehensive Web resource for locating financial assistance programs your parents may be eligible for; State Health Insurance Assistance Program (www.shiptalk.org) which provides free counseling on Medicare and long-term care insurance; Area Agency on Aging (www.eldercare.gov or 800-677-1116)- your best bet for finding local senior resources; National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers (www.caremanager.org)- professionals who (for a fee) can assess your parents' physical needs, and provide services and resources to meet those needs; independent living centers (www.ilru.org), who provide free or low-cost home assessments on how to modify a home to make it safer and more senior-friendly.

9. Step back and evaluate. If you find that the conversations aren't going well, examine your own approach to see what might be the problem. You might suggest that your parents talk with a third party, such as an estate planner (see www.aaepa.com), a financial adviser (www.cfp.net) or a lawyer (www.naela.com) if you think that they could use some expert assistance.

10. Treat them with respect. Appreciate and respect their wisdom and experience and let them know you are there to support them.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to "The NBC Today Show" and author of The Savvy Senior books.

The Gazette does not endorse the contents of The Savvy Senior. Check with professionals about the contents of this column.

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