Jewish World Review Dec. 27, 2004 /16 Teves, 5765
Jan L. Warner & Jan Collins
Planning from a distance
Q: As our New Year's resolution, my sister and I are going to redouble our efforts to get prepared to help our parents (who live on the opposite coast) should they need it. They are in their late 70s and in relatively good health, but at their age, my sister and I know that anything can happen at any time. Our folks are very private, and our concern is that if something happens to one or both of them, it would be difficult for us to get a handle on what they want. Are there "right" ways to broach these issues with our parents without making them think we are barracudas circling them for the kill, which is not our intention at all?
A: Making plans to help elderly parents when they need it is important, yet often ignored until it's too late. In addition to dealing with legal documents, financial and retirement issues, and health care decision-making options, there are a number of practical areas that should also be addressed, especially when the parent and child live far from one another.
It may be awkward to talk about aging issues with your parents, but families who have "been through it" tell us that those who discuss the options and agree on a plan of action are generally better able to handle most contingencies should the unthinkable occur.
Therefore, access to information and understanding preferences place adult children in a much better position to carry out their parents' wishes.
It's important to convince your parents that you are there to support them when they need it, and just as essential that you convince them that you will help them retain as much control as possible for as long as possible, and will defer to their desires as long as practicable. If necessary, changes should be made in "baby steps," so they can adjust more easily. Be forthright with your folks about your own family situations and your time limitations so that there are no misunderstandings.
Once you have your parents' permission to be informed about their legal, financial and medical issues relevant, we suggest that your folks provide you with the following:
1) A list of lawyers, physicians, bankers and brokers, insurance agents, certified public accountants, and other professionals who assist them, as well as their contact information.
2) Location of their wills, powers of attorney, health care documents, safe deposit boxes (including location of keys and who has access), trusts, life insurance, health insurance and annuity information, including policy numbers where appropriate. It would be helpful for you to have copies of these documents and to be added as authorized persons on the safe deposit box.
3) The particulars of your parents' desires regarding funeral arrangements: burial plot information, and the name and address of their clergy.
4) Where you can find their Social Security cards, birth certificates, marriage certificate, divorce certificates, military records and pension and retirement documents.
5) A list of their bank and brokerage accounts, together with the names, addresses and phone numbers of each financial entity.
6) Location of titles to real estate, automobiles, and personal property appraisals, along with full information about their credit card accounts, mortgages, revolving accounts and other obligations they may owe, including account numbers and company addresses.
(And don't forget about loans due to your parents, if any.)
7) A list of all insurance policies (life, health, long-term care, automobile, homeowners, etc.), annuities, and employee benefit/pension information, including names, addresses and telephone numbers.
8) Where you can find their last five years' income tax returns, along with gift tax returns.
9) And releases and authorizations that will allow you to speak with their lawyers, physicians, health care providers, bankers, brokers and other professionals who have served them over the years
With these tools in hand, you and your folks should be ready to face the uncertainty that the future may bring.
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JAN L. WARNER received his A.B. and J.D. degrees from the University of South Carolina and earned a Master of Legal Letters (L.L.M.) in Taxation from the Emory University School of Law in Atlanta, Georgia. He is a frequent lecturer at legal education and public information programs throughout the United States. His articles have been published in national and state legal publications. Jan Collins began co-authoring Flying SoloŽ in 1989. She has more than 27 years of experience as a journalist, writer, and editor. To comment or ask a question, please click here.
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© 2004, Jan Warner