As people age, sooner or later they need to put their affairs in order just in case something happens and their adult children or other loved ones have to help take care of things. While every older individual realizes this, it can be hard to talk to your mom or dad about things like money, legal affairs, insurance, and health problems (especially mental health). No one is ever comfortable with bringing up these topics because it’s emotionally draining to ask your parents how they want their affairs to be handled when they can’t take care of everything themselves. It can be difficult for you or your parents to ever imagine a day when they are no longer able to handle their own day to day legal and health decisions, but you can’t avoid this conversation forever.
So, what’s the best way to get the information you need without evoking defensive behavior from your parents and flaring up an argument? Having an earnest conversation and asking them to complete a simple checklist could be the answer. It will help you to get your parents’ papers in order and have a plan in place for the time when you need it most.
Why You Should Ask Your Parents to Fill the Checklist
We’re so used to thinking of our parents as independent adults who’ll always support us and give valuable advice that we don’t really think about the time when we’ll need to take care of them. But sooner or later, that time does often come. If you’re not prepared, you may end up in a stressful situation and unprepared to answer questions and assist them with paperwork and decision making. Not knowing critical information about your parents’ arrangements can make the task truly overwhelming.
Do you know who your mom’s cardiologist is? Do you know if your dad has long-term care insurance? Do they have any debt? All this information can become very hard to get hold of in an emergency situation. Besides, you wouldn’t want to have to deal with the research when you need to be attentive and available to help with life-changing decisions for your parents. Having all the information at hand ahead of time will make it so much easier both for you and your parents. That’s where the checklist comes in.
Essential Questions to Add to the Checklist
It’s in your best interest to get as much comprehensive information about your parents’ arrangements as possible. That’s why it makes sense to divide the checklist into the following categories: insurance, health, and finances & legal. Since health and finances are very sensitive topics, it’s best to start the checklist with insurance and move on to the more difficult questions.
✔ What kind of health insurance do they have?
✔ Do they have Medicare, Medicaid or a Medigap supplement policy?
✔ Does their insurance plan cover health care bills?
✔ Do they have long-term care insurance?
✔ Do they have life insurance?
✔ Have they paid their insurance premiums? How are the payments being made (direct withdrawal?)
✔ Do they qualify for VA or other benefits that could help pay for assisted living?
✔ Who is their primary MD, what other physicians are they utilizing?
✔ What health problems/conditions do they have?
✔ What medications are they taking? Has their doctor checked all of their medications for side effects?
✔ Do they have any allergies and if yes, how severe the allergic reactions are?
Finances & Legal
✔ Have they set up POA and where do they keep the paperwork?
✔ Do they have a will and an estate plan?
✔ Where do they keep the will?
✔ Do they have a living will and health care proxy?
✔ Where do they keep their life insurance paperwork?
✔ What is equity in the home value to help pay for care? How are the house taxes being paid (monthly, yearly) Are they automatically withdrawn?
✔ Are their pension and social security checks deposited directly in the bank?
✔ Do they have any debt?
✔ What are their current and possible future bills?
✔ Do they have any savings set up for paying for long-term care down the road?
How to Ask Your Parents to Fill the Checklist
As I’ve already mentioned, having a conversation about what happens when your parents can’t take care of themselves is never easy. It’s important to avoid asking all these questions out of the blue – you may need to wait for the right moment and be indirect at first. You might want to casually mention how your friend’s parents completed a checklist like that and how it gave peace of mind to the whole family. Perhaps your parents can assist you in determining what exactly needs to be included in the checklist? Explain how important it is to have all the necessary information at hand for the future. Also, mention that all your parents need to do is complete the checklist and tell you where they plan to store it so that you can access it if you ever need to. Try to assure these conversations do not become adversarial. If they do, let it rest for a while and work to bring it up again using a different approach. Maybe utilize another family member to discuss it from a different perspective with your parents. Set a timeline for yourself and your parents to get this task completed. You will be very glad when the time comes that your family documented these important topics early on.