"I'm visiting my parents at Thanksgiving", a current client told me the other day. "Both of them are 69 years old and recently retired. The problem is that they are very private about their personal affairs, and they have told me nothing at all about their finances, plans, or health care decisions going forward." I listened to her and nodded my head. It's not like this isn't a story that I have heard before.
"How do I know if they are protected and what it is that they expect me to do for them in the future. Trust me, I'm not after their money but I am concerned. How do I start this conversation?" she asked.
There are certainly many disagreements among the experts about when to have "the talk" with your parents. Should it be pre-retirement? post-retirement? or only when major medical issues arise? Well, as an estate planning and elder law attorney, I truly believe that no time is too soon to begin the discussion. The sooner, the better.
This Thanksgiving don;t even ask about the finances. Instead, start the conversation by letting them know that you are there for them if they ever become ill and need your help. Try to ask if they have legal documents in place, and if possible, ask to see these documents. They should have at least a valid healthcare power of attorney as well as a universal HIPAA release allowing you access to their medical records if needed. If all they have are hand-written notes, remind them that these almost certainly have no legal validity. Request that they give you copies of these important documents so that you can produce them if one of their health care providers needs it in the future.
Lighten their concerns by assuring them that you are asking these questions simply for your own peace of mind. Oftentimes even the most private of parents do not ever wish to inflict any worries on their children. After having this initial conversation about health care, it may open the door to further discussions about the handling of financial matters and their full estate plan in the future as well. It is my experience that many of my clients tell me that the first conversation is the most difficult, but that once done, they often have little difficulty talking openly moving forward.
Be thankful for your parents this week, and make the most of your time together.
Happy Thanksgiving to all!