It’s that time of year again. No matter what your religion or traditions, you’re probably planning to use time off from work to visit with family including your parents. Some children will notice their parents slipping - unable to process things the way they used to. Other parents will appear just fine but you’ll still worry about the what-ifs.
Here are some steps you can take now to make life easier for everyone later. The Holiday season is the perfect time because you are with your parents face-to-face and have quality time to really relax and talk.
Start by finding out what legal planning documents your parents already have. If they have not been reviewed in the past three years or if your parents don’t have any, help your folks find an estate planning attorney licensed in their state who can help them put an effective plan in place. Because every family is unique, I won’t attempt to list every legal document they might need, but here are some of the most frequently necessary:
- Revocable living trust: this trust can ensure your parents will avoid the need for a financial guardianship or conservatorship in the event one of them becomes disabled. The trust can also make probate unnecessary after a parent dies, saving the family stress, strain, delays and money.
- Durable financial power of attorney: this document can vary from 4 pages to 30 pages long or more. Generally, the longer the document, the more thorough it is. This gives someone - probably the other parent and then one or more of the children - the power to manage financial matters for a parent who can’t manage them for himself or herself.
- Healthcare power of attorney: also called a healthcare directive in some states, this document authorizes someone else (again, perhaps a family meeting makes sense) to make healthcare decisions for the person who is unable to make them for themselves.
- HIPAA Release: the Healthcare Information Portability and Accountability Act imposes punitive fines on any healthcare provider who releases any of a patient’s confidential information to some one else. Your parents can make an exception to those penalties for information released to specific people. Without this document, it’s possible that if your father is admitted to the hospital, no one - including your mother - will be able to find him because hospitals will not even release the basic medical information of whether or not he has been admitted.
We estate planning attorneys have piles of other documents at our disposal. We can provide the kids with lifelong asset protection. We can avoid or reduce estate taxes. We can help a parent qualify for nursing home benefits like Medicaid. We can get creative and ensure just about any goal your parent imagines is met - or at least encouraged and supported. But the documents above are an absolute minimum that everyone should have. Even you!
If your kids can watch you doing some of this, so much the better! They’ll be prepared when it’s their turn to have these conversations with you!