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Knowing Your Parent’s Last Wishes

Talking with your parents about their last wishes can be a touchy subject. Chances are, it’s harder on you than them! It’s a subject that can’t be avoided, however, because there are some very important financial and emotional implications. The more you plan ahead — before someone is in a hospital bed or incapacitated – the better.

A study by the Hartford insurance company revealed that seniors are much more comfortable discussing estate planning than their boomer kids are! The study also revealed that 70-something year-old parents are more financially savvy when it comes to protecting their children and grandkids financially than boomers realize. They’re also more open to estate planning advice than their kids think they’ll be.

Here’s some basics about your parents last wishes you should know:

  1. Know their social security numbers. As simple as this sounds, your parent’s
    social security numbers are a key to answering some important financial questions.
  2. Know your parent’s doctors, medications and health insurance coverage. Know who your parents’ doctors are and write down all their prescription medications. This way if a parent has to go to an emergency room, and he or she cannot directly communicate, you can tell healthcare professionals what prescriptions your parent is taking and is he/she has any allergies.  Know their health insurance and policy numbers in case you need to contact providers or pay bills.
  3. Do they have valid will? Make sure your parents have an up-to-date will. If not, their money could be tied about in probate, an expensive process that involves lawyers, courts and the IRS. Without a properly executed will, the government could end up getting more money than your family does!
  4. Do they have a durable power of attorney? Should your parents become incapacitated, it’s important to have a durable power of attorney so a designated individual can pay the bills.
  5. Do they have a health care proxy, so someone is designated to make
    medical decisions if your parents can’t?
  6. Do they have a living will (also known as an advanced care directive)? This way you will know your parent’s wishes in regards to resuscitation, transfusions, test, surgery, medications and organ donations.
  7. Make sure beneficiaries are chosen.  Who gets Mom’s jewelry or family heirlooms? To prevent family feuds, the more that is spelled out in the will regarding property, bank accounts and IRAs, the better.
  8. Funeral arrangements. It’s hard to talk about this in advance, but it’s important to know your parent’s burial wishes. Many parents have pre-paid their funeral expenses, so it’s important to know where all the paperwork is. Additionally,some elderly parents have life insurance policies that pay for funeral arrangements or pay out an amount to a beneficiary. Do your parents want to be cremated or buried? What are their religious wishes? When your parents pass away, it is an extremely emotional time – knowing their wishes in advance can help ease some of the stress.

If your parents have not taken care of their estate planning, it’s important to sit down with them and prepare some of the documents for them. Depending on the value of their estate, an estate attorney may need to be involved. If not, forms for simple wills can be found on the Internet.

If your parents say that their financial affairs — and estate plans — are none of your business, at least try to find out where their various papers are located (e.g., their will, power of attorney, funeral plans, bank accounts, property deeds, insurance policies, car registrations, etc.) This can save you a lot of stress!

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