10 Questions to Ask Your Parents

If anything happens to mom, dad, or your spouse, where would your family find the information in an emergency situation such as accident, illness or death? 

It can be tough to have a conversation about this important issue, but if you come at it from an objective perspective, it’s a lot easier to do now, rather than when there is an emergency and you need vital information you can’t find.

Here are 10 questions to ask to be sure you know what information they have and where it is located:

1. Where do you keep your important information, in case I need to find it in an emergency? 

All the documentation and information in the world won’t help if you can’t find it when you need it. You may have to access things such as: deeds; vehicle titles; savings bonds; stock certificates; insurance policies; pension information; bank, brokerage and mutual fund accounts; real estate holdings; partnerships and business agreements.

By starting with where the information is located, you can discover which information may be missing.  Make sure your parents have a safe place to store all sensitive and private information and you (or their preferred designate) knows where that place is. 

2. Where can I find a list of your key contacts? 

Ask for a list of their key contacts and be sure you have the names, addresses, phone numbers, and websites, for any professionals involved in your parents’ financial and medical lives. 

This list should include: financial planners; investment advisors; brokers; lawyers; insurance agents; accountants; doctors (general and specialty) as well as other medical professionals.

3. How are your accounts registered?

Whether your parents’ accounts are registered in one name, or in both names as joint owners, the way they are set up determines who controls the assets and how they will transfer. You can help avoid probate by making the account owner’s intentions crystal clear. 

Make sure your parents’ beneficiary designations are up to date. What are the names, addresses and phone numbers of all beneficiaries? Have they designated both primary and contingent beneficiaries in case their primary beneficiary passes away before they do.

4. Do you have an up to date will?

A will appoints someone to manage an estate and dictates how a person’s property will transfer upon his or her death. Having a current will or trust is essential if your parent wants to have any say in how their estate will be distributed. 

If there are children, are all the children to be treated equally?  Does a child need special provision? Should distributions be made outright or in trust? What about bequests to their parish, diocese, friends and relatives? Are they planning to disinherit anyone? If so, have they made a written statement as to why? 

5. Have you Designated a Power of Attorney?

Everyone should have durable power of attorney appointing someone to make financial decisions for them, if they are no longer capable of doing it themselves. Power of Attorney allows the designated individual to file their parent’s income tax return, withdraw funds from their IRA or other retirement accounts for the parent’s care, deal with credit card companies or insurance companies, make deposits or write checks on the parent’s bank account, and more. 

If access to a bank account is intended, it may be necessary to complete a separate Durable Power of Attorney at the bank, using the bank’s form and completing a signature card that puts your signature on file.

6. Do you have a Health Care Proxy?

A health care proxy designates a person who has the authority to make medical decisions for them. If they don’t have a health care proxy, the court system intervenes and will appoint a legal guardian, which can be invasive and complicated at best, and the legal guardian may not follow your parent’s wishes.

7. Do you have a living will or an advance health care directive?

The Advance Health Care Directive (AHCD) allows your parent to designate an agent (and alternate agents) who will have the authority to make health care decisions for them if they are no longer able to make their own.

The AHCD is a legal document that can clarify their wishes with regard to artificial life support in the event of a condition from which they will never recover. It allows them to make statements regarding the types of treatment they may or may not want, such as radiation, chemotherapy, or blood transfusions. 

Make sure the AHCD is attached to their refrigerator door, as emergency medical personnel are trained to look for such documents in that location if they are called to the house.

It is also important to note the difference between a living will from a doctor or hospital and a Catholic living will. The Catholic living will respects the sanctity of life and requires that a person receives nutrition, hydration,   comfort and pain relief even if they are deemed to be terminal. (Let’s face it, we are all terminal!)

8. How can I access your electronic assets in an emergency?

If any of the critical information is stored electronically, you’ll need the URLs, user IDs; personal identification numbers (PINs); passwords and security questions and answers.

Your parents should keep these in a safe place which you know how to access.

9. How do you want to disposition your personal Items?

Have your parents made an inventory of property, including furniture, jewelry, art and other collectibles? Unless it’s unusually valuable these items are not covered by a will.

Do they have any special directions regarding how their assets are to be distributed? Is there anything they have promised to someone? Are there certain items (jewelry, tools, art, musical instruments, vehicles, whatever) that should go to a specific individual? 

10. Have you documented your final wishes?

Though it’s probably the toughest question to ask, find out what your parents want for final arrangements. When someone dies, you’re so overcome with grief that it’s a blessing to have these decisions made ahead of time. Ask them if they have a cemetery plot; prepaid mortuary arrangements; and a preference regarding burial or cremation. It is also good to discuss any special songs or readings they would like at their funeral. 

This is one of the most important and possibly one of the most difficult discussions you will ever have with your parents, but there are bonuses. Sometimes in a discussion such as this, the old letters and pictures get pulled out as well as some ancient family history and stories. Use this time to rejoice in your family and celebrate the lives you’ve shared.

Death comes to us all sooner or later. In Isaiah 38:1 we hear “Thus says the Lord: Put your house in order, for you are about to die; you shall not recover.””

These questions will not only ensure that your parents have a good handle on their estate planning, but should also encourage you to Set your own House in order!

The Compass Catholic Podcast this week discusses these important topics and we encourage you to check out the Set Your House In Order Bible study to help your parents (and you) get all your critical  information created, updated and organized.

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