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What to Ask Your Aging Parents About Their Finances

Having the ‘big talk’ with aging parents

Published Tuesday, November 19, 2013 (Inquirer.com sub required)

It’s important to converse with your aging parents about their personal finances. So we put together the following list of questions to help facilitate the “big talk.”

These are long-term questions. We will get to the short-term (or crisis) questions in a moment. Here is what to ask your mom, dad, grandparent, or other elderly family member:

  • Do you have health-care directives. (For example, what would you like to do if you are on life support? And who can make that decision on your behalf?)
  • Do you have powers of attorney?
  • Do you have wills?
  • Do you have trusts, and are they funded?
  • When was the last time you reviewed all those documents?
  • Where are the documents located? Does someone other than you know the location?
  • Do you have life insurance, annuities, 401(k), 403(b) pension or IRA accounts? Do you have long-term care insurance?
  • Who are the primary beneficiaries of your investments?
  • Do you have online accounts? Does someone other than you know the user names and passwords?

Next, here are priorities in an emergency.

“We all fear ‘the call,’ the one that tells you your out-of-town parents are in crisis,” says insurance and financial planner William Borton of W.R. Borton in Marlton. “Do you know what to do on short notice?”

Here are some of his guidelines:

  • If they don’t have health care directives or power of attorney documents, prepare these with your parents’ lawyer.
  • Arrange for at least one doctor’s appointment and get medical decision-making authority. Make a list of medications and prescribed dosages, Social Security and Medicare numbers, as well as supplemental medical insurance account numbers.
  • If your parents are strong enough, take them to their bank and have them give you power of attorney on the accounts, so you can pay bills and monitor transactions.
  • Delete and/or disable online shopping accounts.
  • Look for the previous year’s income tax returns (and 1099s). On the federal return, look for Schedule B (interest/dividends) and Schedule D (capital gains and losses.)
  • Make a list of neighbors and friends and their telephone numbers.
  • Get rid of throw rugs! (They are often responsible for falls.)

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