How to talk to your aging parents

My wife and I have spent the past quarter of a century caring for our kids. We’ve done our best to equip them with all they need to be happy, successful and productive. It won’t be too long – but I hope not too soon! – before they are called into action to look out for us. Like it or not, that’s the way it is. Heck, we are experiencing this shift in roles with our own parents. It may not be fun, or even comfortable, but you need to be ready.

That starts with some frank conversations. If you’re not sure where to kick things off, try these six questions to facilitate important discussions with your aging parents.

Have you formalized a “what-if” game plan? I wrote “what-if,” but “when” is a more accurate characterization. Your parents probably have at least an idea of what they would like to see happen if they are incapacitated or pass away, but a mere idea isn’t enough. To make things happen according to their wishes, they need to draft or update a suite of legal documents that may include wills, trusts, powers of attorney (both medical and financial) and living wills. 

Who is doing what? Whether they are naming an agent to make decisions, selecting an executor or naming a successor trustee, everyone should be on the same page. 

Does your plan need to be dusted off? Your parents may have answered yes to question 1, but if they drafted their documents decades ago, it could be time for a refresh. Tax laws have changed dramatically, and it could also make sense to re-establish their intent with respect to powers of attorney. A financial institution may be less likely to recognize a 25-year-old power of attorney than one drawn up a couple of years ago. As you take another look at these important documents, be sure all beneficiary arrangements reflect your parents’ current wishes and are synchronized with the other means by which their assets will be distributed.

What type of insurance do you have? I know my mom has a long-term care policy, but only because I sold it to her. Get a firm grasp of your folks’ life, long-term care and health insurance policies. A survey of their insurance could identify gaps or unnecessary coverage. It could be that policies purchased decades ago don’t make sense now – or that new ones should be considered.  

Who do we need to contact? If your parents already have a letter of instruction documenting their key contacts (attorneys, accountants, etc.) and providers (banks, brokerages, insurance companies, etc.) in a single document or notebook, that’s fantastic. If not, ask them to write one. Are there special programs or services they’re eligible for? Perhaps they should go through the VA pre-need burial eligibility process. As USAA members, take advantage of services offered through the Survivor Relations team. 

How should we handle things when you’re gone? This is an open-ended topic, but ground you can cover might include your parents’ desire on a wide range of topics, including preferred burial location, cremation, type of service and obituary details. 

J.J. Montanaro is a certified financial planner with USAA, The American Legion’s preferred provider of financial services. Submit questions for him online.