As one’s parents get older, they’ll inevitably begin to face a variety of end-of-life issues: estate planning, living arrangements, whether skilled nursing is appropriate, when to give up driving, and others.
Below are proactive steps to take to assist one’s parents as they age and begin to face these issues.
1. Get your own finances in order
Getting and keeping your own personal finances in order will help provide the capacity and clarity to engage with your parents regarding finances and end-of-life issues when the time is right. You’ll also be better-equipped to assist them with document organization and finding appropriate professionals and to navigate important conversations.
2. Start the conversation
Gently begin talking with your parents about finances and end-of-life issues, with the goal of growing comfortable discussing these issues by the time they need help managing their affairs and difficult conversations need to happen about living arrangements, finances, and health.
Practical advice for these conversations:
- Sharing your personal efforts related to finances, estate planning, and insurance can be the easiest way to start.
- Ask open-ended questions about money.
- Ask about where they see themselves (i.e., job, location) in the next 5 to 10 years.
- Keep notes for future reference, particularly about any preferences expressed regarding life stages or end-of-life issues (such as agreeing to stop driving at a certain age or entering an assisted living facility)—this can help avoid blame or resentment down the road when tough decisions need to be made.
3. Help your parents get organized
One of the most helpful steps your parents can take is to get organized and simplify their finances as much as possible. This means your parents should:
- Ensure essential documents (such as wills, living wills, health care proxies, powers of attorney) are in place, up to date, and in a secure and known location.
- Know where all of their accounts are held and consolidate as appropriate.
- Automate bill payment.
- Have a big-picture understanding of how much money they make and spend each month.
Simply mentioning these items may be enough for your parents to get organized, or you may need to get directly involved—it all depends on your parent’s ability and your relationship with them.
Other ways to help your parents get organized might include:
- Document their net worth and budgets in a spreadsheet.
- Setting them up on Mint.
- Share resources on how to find a financial planner.
4. Move toward more in-depth discussions
Eventually, move toward more in-depth discussions, with the goal of covering the following:
- Preferences and expectations for later stages of life.
- The general state of their finances (e.g., ability to pay essential living expenses, existence of credit card or other debt, ability to continue working and retirement timing).
- Contact information for important advisors.
- Whether essential documents (such as wills, living wills, health care proxies, powers of attorney) are in place, and if so:
(a) their location, and
(b) what roles have been assigned to you or your siblings (e.g., executor, powers of attorney).
- What help they might currently need.
Finally, remember that you are not in control of nor responsible for your parents’ financial decisions. Focus on what you can control and the things for which you are responsible. Beyond that, try not to overthink how life may or may not play out for your parents.
- NAPFA – A great resource for finding a fee-only financial planner for your parents. XY Planning Network is also great, but the focus is on younger clients so you might have a hard time finding someone with later life planning expertise.
- Daughterhood – This is an amazing blog and resource about all things related to caring for aging parents.
- Everplans – Your parents can upload and share important documents and information with you. This is also a way for them to document certain preferences about different life events or stages.