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Monday, April 4, 2011

What you need to know about your aging parents' legal, financial & health matters

As our parents age, we anticipate that we'll be called upon at some time to help them in various ways. Most adult children are willing to help but are nervous about trying to deal with any kind of family crisis without knowing where to start. This is why I advocate family discussions between elderly parents and their children while the parents are still healthy.

There is information you should have now about your aging parents so that you can help in the future. The information can be divided into legal, financial and health-care, as I've set out below. Always remember though, that the sharing of information must be voluntary; you don't have a right to know your parents' personal matters.

What you should know about your parents' legal matters:
  • Do they have Wills, Powers of Attorney and Health Care Directives in place, and if so, where they are stored? (Note that you shouldn't be asking to read the documents; you just want to know where to find them when necessary)
  • Who has been named to act under the legal documents?
  • Whose name is on the title to the house, cottage or rental property, and are they joint owners with a right of survivorship or tenants-in-common?
  • Which lawyer do they use?
  • What other legal situations are they involved in, e.g. have they set up trusts? Are they named as anyone's executor? Did they completely wind up the corporation that once held the family business? Are they involved in any lawsuits? Are they guarantors for anyone?
  • What current arrangements have been made for a handicapped adult child, and what are their wishes and plans for that child's future?
What you should know about your parents' finances:
  • Where do they bank and invest?
  • Which financial planner and accountant do they use?
  • Do they have life insurance, long term care insurance, critical illness insurance or disability insurance?
  • If so, where are the policies kept?
  • Who is the beneficiary of the life insurance policy?
  • Have they set up RESPs for the grandchildren?
  • Are they entitled to receive any private pensions?
  • Do they have RRSPs or RRIFs, and if so, who have they named as beneficiary?
  • Are loans that the parents made to the kids meant to be repaid?
  • Do they own assets in any other countries?
  • Can they afford to live where they are, or do they need help in forming new plans?
What you should know about your parents' health care and personal care:
  • Are there any immediate health concerns?
  • Does their mental capacity still seem to be intact?
  • Who are their doctors, pharmacists, and specialists?
  • Who are their current live-in caregivers?
  • What services do they use, such as housekeepers, Meals on Wheels, driving services, etc?
  • Who has been appointed as their spokesperson under a Health Care Directive?
  • Do they have any preferences or instructions about how or where they might live if they should lose mental capacity? (e.g. have they expressed a preference to live with one of the kids?)
  • What are their wishes for disposal of their remains after they've passed away?
What you are told by your parents could be detailed or it could be sparse. I've seen parents produce every possible fact about themselves right down to the serial number on their Starbucks gift card. And then there are others who prefer to keep their kids on a "need-to-know" basis. In my book "Estate Planning Through Family Meetings (Without Breaking up the Family)", I devoted a full chapter to this topic. In it you'll find more information and ideas, and a checklist you can use.

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