I’ve spent almost the entire year getting schooled on eldercare.
I thought I would pass on some tips you should be thinking of now if you anticipate you will have to help your aging parents someday.
The below tips also are vital if your parents experience catastrophic injury or illness that quickly takes their life. You may be thrust into the immediate situation of handling their affairs, and a little preparation before such tragedies can make a significant difference.
Many parents age gradually. Your parents may even be in great health right now. But aging and slowly developing medical problems have a way of chipping away at health. They will likely need help someday, even if they don’t need it now.
It may be help you provide or skilled professionals like aides and nurses provide. They may stay in their current living arrangement, or they may transition to an apartment, independent senior living community, assisted living or full nursing care.
You may have to help them sell a house or make changes to their financial accounts. A barrage of details can hit you and leave you exhausted before you even have time to come up for air. So to spare you some of that tedious exhaustion, I want to share some insights with you.
3 Tips on Preparing to Help Aging Parents
1. Make sure their legal papers are up to date
They need a will, financial power of attorney and medical power of attorney. I won’t jump into any legal jargon, because I’m not a lawyer. But encourage them to find or help them find a trustworthy lawyer. Make sure their legal papers are up to date.
This isn’t just about money (although if things are clearly laid out in a will, it will help spare you and any family members from battling about money and possessions after your parents die). Countless lawyers and families have stories about aging parents who assumed “the kids will just sort it out”—only to have those kids then spiral into vicious resentment and tactics that left them without a relationship with each other.
That old cliche about two daughters fighting over mom’s great-grandmother’s ring is true in more than a few families.
And remember that just because your parents may have had a will done “years ago,” that doesn’t mean legalities, life situations or estate values haven’t changed. We discovered my mother-in-law’s power of attorney done in 2009 needed to be updated to better reflect changes in the law since then.
Make sure they either give you a copy of the legal papers or tell you where they are kept or tell you the lawyer who prepared them.
Also, if one of your parents dies and there are accounts in their name only (such as utilities), be sure to get the account name changed to your surviving parent’s name. This can prevent challenges when making changes to the services or stopping them.
For example, when we sold my mother-in-law’s home, there was a refund on one of the utility bills when we shut it off. However, she had never moved the account into her name, so the refund check came to her deceased husband’s name.
Even though we had his death certificate, the bank would not take the refund check and requested that we ask the utility to re-issue it in her name. Sure, it was more of an inconvenience than anything, but when you are sorting through a million little details, no one needs one more inconvenience or phone call to make.
2. Encourage them to sort through their belongings
I am convinced that everyone—not just aging parents—but everyone, should consistently be weeding through their possessions.
Donate what can be donated. Give away items that may hold emotional meaning, but that could be passed on now for a loved one to treasure and enjoy. Ruthlessly get rid of trash, broken items, and “extras” of things that will never be used.
The philosophy that “if one is good, six is better” just doesn’t bode well when cleaning out a basement, garage, attic or closet. Six rarely is better. It’s just clutter. Clear out what can be cleared out.
This process of weeding through things is especially crucial for aging parents who possibly have lived in the same residence for decades. Things accumulate. It will be burdensome going through it all if you have to get the house ready to sell, and it will be emotionally exhausting to do it after your parents pass away. The more that can be done BEFORE those two scenarios, the better.
And what they want to keep—well, you should work with them to organize that stuff. (Again, this is good advice for all of us). Bring order to the items that remain.
I am not naive. I know the above can be nearly impossible for some families, either because the parents are stubborn and don’t want their things touched OR because the children can’t agree on how to tackle this process. Family dynamics can be prickly.
But at least start to have the conversation. Maybe your parents would be willing to let you work with them room-by-room, rather than feeling overwhelmed by going through an entire house.
3. Make a master file of important information
If your parents become mentally or physically incapacitated, you or whoever is the power of attorney will be making a lot of decisions.
Many places of business (banks, brokerage firms, doctors offices, utilities, insurance companies and so on) are understandably strict on privacy. You can plead with them all you want, and they may not talk to you at all without evidence you are the power of attorney.
It can be quite the cumbersome pain. Not gonna lie.
But even if you are the power of attorney, that doesn’t automatically mean you know what you’re trying to find.
So strongly urge your parents to make a master file with these items:
Wills and Powers of Attorney
Copies of their Security Security cards, driver’s licenses or IDs, and Medicare insurance cards
Current Social Security letter (the Social Security Administration issues one each year and it includes such things as the benefits the person receives, the Medicare Part B premiums, etc.)
Originals and/or copies of birth certificates and death certificates (if one parent has died)
Life insurance policy numbers and company phone numbers
Medical insurance policy numbers and company phone numbers
Long term care insurance policy numbers and company phone numbers
Homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy numbers and company phone numbers
Auto insurance policy numbers and company phone numbers
Financial institutions and account numbers (banks, credit unions, etc.)
Investment institutions and account numbers (financial planners, brokerages, etc).
Pension account numbers and the company that administers the pension
Name and phone number of their accountant
Utility and residential services information (company names and account numbers)
Wifi login credentials and password
Login credentials for any of the above, as well as cell phones, computers, home security system, Amazon, Netflix, cable and/or internet provider.
Copies of house or land deeds
Copies of any pre-paid cemetery plots or funeral arrangements
I know all the above sounds tedious, but once they compile a master file, it’s just a matter of maintaining it. Offer to help them compile it. Set a reminder in your phone to remind them to review it and update it every year or couple of years. More than likely, a lot won’t change year-to-year.
And while the above list is not comprehensive, it’s a huge start! Just imagine if all that stuff is in ONE place?!! Hopefully, as they are aging, they will be more willing to just give you this master file, but even if they are not, they could at least tell you where it is or put it in a safe deposit box that you have access to.
The above information can be incredibly helpful if you have to help them do address updates if they move.
The information can be monumentally essential if you have to start handling their affairs, paying their bills and/or researching and documenting what’s going in and out of their accounts. If they go on Medicaid, you have to document a lot. But even if they don’t go on Medicaid, you will need to start understanding what is automatically withdrawn from or deposited in their bank accounts monthly, semi-annually or annually.
And once one or both of your parents have died, having all the essential information in one place will make it smoother to pay off bills, submit claims, transfer funds and/or close accounts.
Lastly, if there is a trusted elder law lawyer in your area, consider setting up an initial consultation to ask what you should be thinking of to best assist your parents as they age. Elder law lawyers are well versed in the legalities of such things as asset protection and Medicaid qualification.
No one likes to think about their parents aging. But parents age, and the vast majority will need some kind of support at some point.
It’s just wise stewardship to help them plan and prepare while they can, because once you are in the throes of their declining health or overwhelming need for assistance, no planning is really possible at that point. You’re just swimming full bore to stay ahead of crushing waves.
Copyright 2020, Julie Sibert. Intimacy in Marriage Blog. Links may be monetized.