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It Is Important to Discuss What Ifs with Aging Parents

Published July 10, 2013

Many older people are reluctant to discuss financial matters, even with close family members, but when a loved one passes away, there are certain things you will need to know. Neglecting to talk with aging parents about financial and estate planning matters can result in significant difficulties in handling these affairs after death. It is important to think about both how to have the conversation and what needs to be talked about.

If an older parent avoids the subject of financial matters, try speaking in “I” statements, such as “I am worried I won’t know how to handle your affairs if something should happen to you.” This makes it clear that you are not invading your parent’s privacy or criticizing his or her financial management. It is also important to be direct. One of the key questions is simply where you should look for information about your parent’s will and any trusts, assets and debts.

Many people keep a will and other important documents in a safe deposit box, but this is not recommended. When the owner of the box dies, the bank will generally not give the family access to the box without a court order. Instead, such documents can be stored in the home in a fireproof strongbox. You should also know how to contact your parent’s estate planning attorney, who will have copies of the documents on file. A revocable living trust is an alternative or supplement to a will that can make the process of distributing assets to beneficiaries easier and faster.

In addition to crucial documents such as wills and trusts, you should know where to find information about any life insurance or mortgage your parent has, as well as what monthly bills he or she pays. Ideally, all of this information should be gathered in one place. Taking the time to have this sensitive conversation with an older parent can prevent confusion and unnecessary expense in the future.

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