CHECKING ON YOUR PARENTS’ AFFAIRS

Among the various topics that I have written about on this Blog, I have covered changes in My Wife’s and My Life (Retirement), and expanded it to address issues in My Daughter’s (Wills and Life Insurance) and new Grandson’s (soon to be College Fund) Lives. Planning early always leaves more time to modify, when necessary.

It is important for each generation to make sure that their Parents are capably taking care of their affairs–Medical, Estate and Financial, among others.  Think of those calls everyone has received, trying to sell you a new roof.  Well, just like no one wakes up and says: “I think I’ll get a new roof today”, there is not a “Eureka” moment for the most important things in your life either.  When they can’t handle things, you need to step in.

Tom Lauricella is a columnist with The Wall Street Journal, and I believe that the linked column, “Have ‘The Talk’ With Mom and Dad”, addresses the issue as well as possible, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB90001424127887324425204578599623486510056.html#printMode.  But, it’s much more than just checking on their Paperwork.  Question if they are: having regular check-ups; taking their Medication; getting necessary home maintenance (normally a good indication, in general) taken care of; paying bills on time; reviewing their bank and investment accounts; and, if they are really up-there in age, perhaps you should even chat with their neighbors.  Give them your Contact Information.

In my case, My Father asked me to review his files and investments with him, when we were visiting.  That way, I got to see everything, and, with his cooperation.  Since Dad had “tapped” me, that made it easier for my Mother to name me in her updated Estate Plan.  With four siblings (one older), that question might have come up; but, it didn’t.

If you have siblings (See Note Below), try to determine who would be the most capable of working with your Parents in carrying out Their Plan(s).  That Word sounds better than “Final Wishes”, huh?  It’s important for you review and understand the Plan, which should include: Wills; Durable Powers-of-Attorney and Health Care Surrogate(s), at a minimum.  If a sibling had already been designated, either as a Primary or Successor Executor, Attorney-in-Fact and/or Surrogate, that makes it much easier.  Just make sure that that sibling has the time and abilities to perform the duties and DO review it with your Parents.  If no Family Member would be able to serve, the Documents should provide for an a Fiduciary to be hired.

The Will is the most important Document for you to review, understand, and have a copy of. You should, however, also have copies of the Durable P/A and the Health Care Surrogate.  The P/A–IF it is “Durable”–enables you to handle the affairs of your Parent(s).  The H/C Surrogates allow you to make medical decisions for them.

If possible, try to visit when they have an appointment with their Primary Physician and, perhaps, the Specialist(s) treating any serious problems.  When possible, try to accompany your Parent(s) to visit their Attorney. Don’t assume that everything in what may be a perfectly legal Document is proper; but, the real question is: did the Attorney adequately understand your Parent(s) needs and intentions?

Generally, if your Parents are, let’s say, in their mid-70’s, and they don’t seem willing to discuss The Estate, you might suggest that you need to update your own Estate Plan and would like to see their Plan(s) in order to get some ideas.  Make it appear like they are helping you!

Once you get Mom and/or Dad talking about their Estate Plan, it might be an easy transition to their Investment Portfolio. Tell them that you realize that you are still in a Pre-(or Pre-Pre-) Retirement Mode; but, your Investments have just not recovered from the Great Recession.  Lie if you have to!  Ask about some medical problem that they had in the past. Hopefully that will get them talking about their Health.  Just get them started talking and you can always get additional information at a later time.

Try to arrange to visit them when they will be having their next Physical. It’s good for you to know, at least, their Primary and, perhaps, other Physician(s) if they have any serious conditions.  If and when possible, try to arrange visits with their Attorney, CPA and Financial Advisor. Ask lots of questions. Also, make sure that each of their advisors has your Telephone Number and Email Address. They can contact you if things require.

Get copies of their Estate Plan, review it and, if the Attorney hasn’t satisfactorily answered your questions, tell your Parent(s) that you are going to be seeing your Attorney, on your Plan soon, and you would like him/her to take a quick look at theirs. Get their agreement, if possible. The Will(s) are your key because they would provide access to their other affairs.

NOTE: If you have siblings, you might want to determine who is in the best position, or has already been chosen, to get involved in your Parents’ affairs. Other siblings should be kept informed, at least in generalities.

NOTE #2: Over my career as a Financial Advisor, I have read about or encountered: Clients who thought that their Executor could handle their affairs, while they are still alive (WRONG); had Successor Executors or Trustees who were older than they were (POOR CHOICE); Attorneys who drafted documents that enabled spend-thrift Beneficiaries to take funds out of Trusts (BAD IDEA); appointed Co-Fiduciaries who despised each other (UGH!), and THE ABSOLUTE WORST…An Attorney who drafted a Trust and had the Beneficiary change to UCLA, half-way through the Document, and omitting USC, the True Beneficiary.  Always have someone else review the Docs for you.

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