How to help your aging parents get legal paperwork in place
January starts the year and as Adult Children it’s the time of year to look into some of the technical challenges of caring for aging parents. As an adult child, in the back of your mind, you’re always wondering if your parents have all that legal information in place. Do they have a will? What about a health care proxy or living will? And what happens if they can no longer take care of their financial affairs? Do they have a power of attorney? And with all of these, you wonder if you’re designated as the responsible person in any of these. The adult children need to bring up the topic to help your aging parents get legal paperwork in place soon after retirement.
For some of you, your parents are organized and responsible and have all these legal documents in place and you know which ones you have been designated to step in and take responsibility for taking responsibility. But for other of you, this is an area that your parents have never discussed with you.
How do you bring up the topic of needed legal paperwork with your aging parents?
How do you bring up the topic of legal information? Never an easy thing to discuss. You don’t want your parents to think that you think they are dying or that you want to make sure you’re in their will. If you have siblings, do discuss this with them first. One of them may have all the information and your problem is solved.
If you have no other solution, it’s just one of those things you need to bite the bullet and bring up. Sending them to the Senior section here to the post on “important legal paperwork Seniors need to have in place” could be a start. But at some point you need to have the discussion with them. It’s best if siblings can be included in this discussion. You could even set up a family meeting on SKYPE, Facetime, or Zoom. That’s a great way for the whole family to keep in touch with one another anyway.
Suggestions of ways to raise the topic of needed legal documents with aging parents
You want to pose the question as one that you assume they have taken care of to start. If they haven’t done this yet, you might ask why not? You need to have a list of all the important paperwork they really should have in place, starting with a will, a health care proxy and a living will. Next up would be a power of attorney and then discuss the need to update their birth certificates if they haven’t already done that. Many have updated birth certificates if they needed a passport in recent years.
You should have a good working knowledge of the need for each of these to present your case. Once started, it’s important that you try to get a definite action plan in place so these things are taken care of. Reassuring your parents that you want them to take care of this information now, while they are feeling well, so if something happens and one of them has health problems down the road, they won’t have the added stress of making decisions at that time.
Advance preparation when you discuss the legal paperwork that aging parents need.
If none of these items are done, you might be prepared with copies of living wills and help them fill them out right now. You can also have them fill out the health care proxy. Both of these need witnesses to sign, verifying their name and mental ability to know what they are signing. And those witnesses can’t be family or their medical provider. (This is another good argument for getting this taken care of early on.) Suggestions for witnesses could be neighbors, someone at the local bank, the library, or any group they are in. Discussing care wishes with the family together is a wonderful way to dispel arguments when the need arises.
There is usually going to be a charge to do up a will. Finding a place like ‘do your own will online’ is a free option. Or if they prefer a physical lawyer to speak with, you could help them find one that you think would be satisfactory to them. When you do, make sure you have the phone number as well and directions to the office.
When aging parents balk at getting needed legal paperwork in place.
If the family is not included in this discussion, I would recommend that you include your spouse or sympathetic close friend of theirs or one of yours that they know well. It’s always good to have a supportive other to bolster your discussion if they seem reluctant.
And for the parents that tell you to ‘butt out’ and mind your own business, now is the time to make it clear that unless you know the information you might need, that you can’t promise you’ll be available to make decisions when they no longer can. I know that sounds like a threat, and maybe it is. But you can’t let this be your responsibility. Make sure your parents understand your position about your concern for protecting them, ensuring care is given according to their wishes and that the disposition of their property goes to whoever they choose and not who the state decides.
Once everything is in place, it’s a good idea if whoever is designated as actor in any of the documents has a copy of the part they are responsible for. This is especially true for the health care proxy and living will. Your parent might also want their physician to have copies of those as well.
Praying all goes well for those of you who need to have this discussion with your parents.
When Adult Children don’t want to deal with the legal paperwork of aging parents.
One other scenario I need to bring up is when the parents have all this in place and no one in the family wants to hear about it. Sometimes adult children are even more hesitant to talk about any of this. It that’s you, you need to make sure your parents know that you don’t want the responsibility of doing any of the activities they may have designated to you to be responsible for.
The one making these documents does have options on who to appoint. If you live miles away from your parents, they may need to designate an executor for their will to someone in the area. Many banks provide those services, and yes, there is a charge but it’s actually nominal and they take care of making sure utilities are notified, bills are paid, assets are disposed of according to the designations in the will. This is often the easiest solution for families living at distances and certainly the easiest way to cope with real estate, and stocks and bonds that need to have ownership transferred.
Adult Children also need this legal paperwork
I hope I’ve given you some food for thought and some suggestions to make things go a little more smoothly. No one likes to think of the ‘what if’s’. As you deal with this problem, keep in mind that all of these important legal documents are ones that you, also, need to have in place. Anyone reaching their majority (legal age) needs to consider having at least a living will and a health care proxy in place. Both of these are free and just require a bit of your time to make sure your wishes are carried out in case something happens.
Love, Hugs, and Prayers,
“What things soever you desire, when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you shall have them.”
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