Aging Parents: Asking the Tough Questions

Adult children often find it difficult to think about the possibility that someday one or both of their parents won't be self-sufficient. As a result, many families are unprepared to handle the issues and challenges that arise with aging parents.

According to the California Society of CPAs (, the best time to talk about financial and health issues is when your parents are well and independent. And for many families, the holiday season, as everyone gathers together, provides a good opportunity to carry out this important task. So gather your siblings, set a date, and consider reviewing the following questions with your parents.

Do You Have a Will?

A traditional will directs how an estate should be distributed upon the death of its owner. When an individual dies without a will, a surrogate administers the estate according to prescribed rules, which may not reflect your parents’ personal wishes. If your parents do not have a will, encourage them to visit an attorney to have one prepared.

Where Are Your Important Documents Stored?

To be prepared for future emergencies, it’s important that a family member knows where your parents store important documents, such as wills, birth and marriage certificates, Social Security cards, military records, and financial documents and records. In your discussions with parents, you should suggest that they prepare a list of assets and liabilities and let a family member know where this and various financial documents can be found as well. It is also wise to secure names and contact information for your parents’ CPA, lawyer, stockbroker and any other advisors, such as bankers.

Do You Have Adequate Health Insurance?

Most adults age 65 and older are covered by Medicare. Since Medicare does not cover all medical expenses, your parents should have supplemental or Medigap insurance to pay for uncovered costs. You may need to help your parents distinguish among the many choices available. Keep in mind, too, that individuals covered by Medicare can now sign up for Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage, which takes effect January 1.

Who Should Handle Your Finances If You Become Unable To Do So?

If your parents have not already done so, you might suggest that they consider creating a durable power of attorney. With this legal document, your parents authorize a specific person to act on their behalf in managing their financial affairs should they become incapacitated. The designated person can pay bills, cash checks, make investment decisions and even sell your parents’ home on their behalf.

Having a power of attorney put in place while your parents are still competent avoids the costly and time-consuming process of going through the court system to obtain these powers.

Should You Become Seriously Ill, What Level Of Care And Intervention Would You Prefer?

This is a difficult but important question to bring up. Once your parents have formulated their wishes, a lawyer can draw up an advanced medical directive, a written document that takes effect when a physician certifies that a person is unable to make his or her own health care decisions.

There are two types of advance directives available. A living will contains written directives to health care providers regarding what types of life support or sustaining treatments you do or don’t want to receive. A durable power of attorney for health care is a document in which one person gives another person the legal authority to make medical treatment decisions on his or her behalf.

Do You Have Any Special Wishes For Your Funeral?

If your parents have specific thoughts regarding the funeral ceremony or service, burial or cremation, ask them to put their wishes in writing. This will help to ensure that their desires are carried out and reduces the possibility of disagreements among siblings regarding exactly what the parents would want done.

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