In part one of this series on the sandwich generation, we provided some tips on how to take care of yourself even when you are giving so much of your time and resources to your family. It’s easy to tune out a flight attendant when they announce, “in case of cabin pressure, please put on your own oxygen mask first and then assist your child or other passengers.” However, when you find yourself taking care of your parents and your children, this same rule applies. In our next few entries, we want to focus on caring for your parents during this leg of life’s journey.
[minti_pullquote align="right"]Stress to your parents that your primary goal is to ensure that their wishes are honored even if their decision-making ability suffers later on.[/minti_pullquote]
Over the years, you may not have noticed exactly when your parents stopped seeming invincible. But there comes a time when you cannot deny they are having trouble communicating, driving, or making decisions as they get older. Most of us find that conversations with our parents that were challenging when we were teenagers or young adults now seem impossible.
However, in order for you to be in a position to most effectively help your parents, you need to find out if they have any estate planning documents and how you would access those documents in case of an emergency.
If your parents are beyond sixty and don’t have the basic estate planning documents, such as a will and power of attorney in place yet, now is the time to do so while they can still make decisions on their own. As difficult as this conversation may be for everyone involved, be sure to stress to your parents that your primary goal is to ensure that their wishes are honored even if their decision-making ability suffers later on. Taking care of this now can help ease your parents’ stress level, as well as your own.
Be careful not to assume that your parents have these documents simply because they’ve been successful. Far too often the immediate needs of success keep us from completing the tasks we know we will one day need. Approach the topic gently but don’t let it slide just because your parents seem to ‘have it together.’
If they have already done some estate planning, have your parents show you where they keep the most recent versions and check the date those documents were signed. Even though these documents don’t expire, sometimes the language needs to be updated. If your parent’s documents are over five years old, it would be a good idea to have them reviewed by a qualified estate planning attorney and updated if necessary.
Also, if they already have done some estate planning, it’s a good idea to get all of the contact information for the attorney who drafted these documents for your parents Many times, we entrust our most sensitive financial planning to someone older with experience. When it comes to your parents, you want to make sure their estate planning attorney has not retired or passed away.
Here are four documents we encourage all of our clients to help their parents get or, if they already have them, make sure they know where to get the most recent copy:
Power of Attorney
Your first task is to get a durable power of attorney in place. A power of attorney authorizes you (or whomever your parents choose) to take the lead role in your parents’ finances. If you’re unsure how to start this conversation, ask your own financial planner or lawyer how they advise their clients to broach the subject. Whatever you do, don’t delay. You (a sibling or another trusted person) will need to have control of your parents’ finances when they are no longer able to make decisions. The need for a durable power of attorney often becomes very clear in the wake of a health emergency, but needs to be in place prior to such an event so the family can focus on the quality of care and spending quality time with their parents, instead of making tough decisions under pressure.
Health Care Proxy
Speaking of health, your next task is to obtain a health care proxy. In the unfortunate event that your parents do have a medical crisis, or they simply suffer failing health over time, they will be depending on you to make the best decisions for them when they can’t make decisions for themselves.
Setting up a health care proxy is incredibly easy before your parents have a major medical event, but it can be next to impossible during a crisis, when it matters most. As you take on even more responsibility for your aging parents, it can help them immensely to know that their lives are in the hands of people they love, know and trust, and you can take comfort in the knowledge that this important task is in the rearview mirror.
After they have passed, it is still important to honor your parents’ wishes by ensuring their assets are distributed in the way they intended. They are going to need a will, and as you may have guessed, if they don’t have one already, you can help them secure one.
Start by talking to your parents, then reach out to their advisors and lawyer to put together a will that will ensure their wishes are carried out, whether it’s donating to a charity, leaving money to loved ones, or spelling out funeral arrangements. This is one way to make sure they are leaving the legacy they want to leave, and it’s an important final piece of their financial puzzle.
Create a Legacy Binder
As you accomplish these goals and secure each document, be sure to keep them somewhere safe and easy to access. We provide our clients with online document storage for this very purpose. Even if you do not have this option, ensuring that all of your parents’ most important documents – and any relevant documents of your own – are conveniently housed in one place will be an incredible blessing to the rest of the family.
Sometimes we can see this path as it approaches and have the luxury of time to prepare as best we can. Other times, we may quickly find ourselves walking through this part of our life’s path with seemingly no warning signs. Either way, the fewer decisions you have to make during times of grief, the more you will be able to be present and cherish the time you have left with your parents. Your parents may not want you to see their will yet, or want to appoint someone you don’t know well as the healthcare or financial proxy. Remember that it’s important to respect their wishes. The point of creating these documents is simply to honor their life by carrying out what their legacy, even if it isn’t how you would structure it. The thought of losing a loved one can be a time of great emotional stress for all. During those times, you want to make sure there’s no confusion or hurt feelings over what should be happening or how it should happen.
In the next post, we’ll continue with the first half of our series on the sandwich generation. We’ll discuss the need to do an occasional “financial checkup” on your parents, and what that entails.