Five Questions to Ask Your Aging Parents

by Shannan Dennison

As Mom and Dad progress into their sunset years, you may start experiencing some role reversals. Be proactive. Here are some key questions to help you both navigate the unexpected.

What do you want to see happen if you can no longer care for yourself?

It might be a temporary situation such as a hip or knee replacement that requires a short rehabilitation period.  Falls become more commonplace among the elderly and some are left for hours, sometimes days before they are found. Would staying in the home with competent home care be desired? Or are they thinking they will move in with you?

Do you have Long Term Care Insurance?

A good long term care policy will help defray the costs of home care and/or a long term care facility.  Policies typically kick in when the insured cannot perform at least two of the six activities of daily living (ADLs); bathing, dressing, toileting, eating, transferring (walking and getting up and down) and continence. Think about your morning routine. You most likely perform all six of the ADLs.

Do you have estate planning documents that have been reviewed in the past three years?

A proper estate plan includes a living will or trust and a durable power of attorney both for financial affairs and health care.  Adult children are often given these responsibilities.  It should be someone who is close by, trusted and knows what responsibilities are expected of them.  Make sure you know where it is and if there are any key roles you will be asked to play.

Are you working with a financial advisor?

In regards to investments, the most common mistake the elderly make is being too conservative with their savings.  Downturns in the market create skittish investors making cd’s and savings accounts look attractive.  The problem is that current interest rates are still at artificially held lows, (think quantitative easing) which don’t even keep up with inflation.  A professional advisor will make sure the investments are diversified by both product type and asset class.  Assets should be rebalanced regularly, at a minimum of once per year.

What are your end-of- life wishes?

Resuscitate or do not resuscitate (DNR)?  Cremation or casket?  Memorial service or drinks at the bar?  Pre-planning as much detail of this inevitable event is a true gift to family survivors that will save time and money. Those who don’t pre-plan are often vulnerable to being talked into more expensive affairs. Remember that death rituals are for the living.  A gathering should offer a genuine reflection of the deceased as well as a time of sharing for loved ones.

Remember to make the conversation private and choose a time when everyone is clear-minded and fresh.  For example, don’t start asking these five questions when Dad is finishing up his fifth eggnog at the family Christmas party.  Remember to include other siblings too.

The best lives our senior parents can live include independence, choice, dignity and the highest quality of life possible given their financial status.  Emphasize that you want these things for them and they will more likely be receptive to this important conversation.

This article was originally printed in November, 2013 and has been updated for this publication.

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