By Susan M. Graham, Certified Elder Law Attorney, Senior Edge Legal, Boise, Idaho
Are you thinking about your elderly parents’ finances and beginning to worry what you should do to help them in an emergency?
Don’t expect your parents to be thrilled at the idea of discussing their finances if they have not been open about this in the past.
If you are lucky, they may bring up the topic. When my Cousin Kathie was age 90, she called me one day to say she was going to be kicked out of her retirement home because she was two months behind in her rent. She asked me to call and check. I looked into it and she was indeed behind in the rent. Right then and there she asked that I take over her finances, which I did, and I continued to handle her finances until she died at the age of 99.
If you are not so lucky to be asked for your help, you need to start the discussion. Be careful that you don’t come on too strong, because it may be perceived that you want to take their money. One way to start is to express your concern about your role in an emergency if they should die or worse, they come unable to handle their affairs due to old age, dementia or illness. If they share the information about what they own, the approximate value, and where their records are located, that would be a huge first step. If they don’t, be patient. You have opened the door a crack and they may call you later to share this information.
An alternative approach is to suggest that you go to a meeting with them at their attorney’s office to get independent, unbiased information on alternative ways to handle the health and financial emergencies worrying you.
Of course, if they say no, you are stuck. You did your best.
If everything goes wrong that could go wrong and there is no plan in place when your parents become mentally or physically unable to handle their affairs, you have the option to go to Court to be appointed as their conservator [the one who handles their finances] and guardian [the one who makes the health and housing decisions].
What can you do? Start the discussion so everyone is prepared for the bad days in life, death, or the possibility of becoming incompetent. Good Luck!