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Important Questions to Ask Your Parents

My mom thinks she has been married three times and she also thinks she has five children. In reality the only siblings from her one (60+ year) marriage are me and my sister. Sometimes all you can do is laugh to keep from crying.  

She is 96 years old and does not have many years left. Because we never know when someone will be injured, ill or incapacitated, it is important to be prepared if anything happens to mom, dad, aunts, uncles or other loved ones.

If they were incapable of taking care of themselves, where would you find the information you need to care for their affairs – financial, medical, physical and spiritual?

It can be a tough process to go through, but it’s a lot easier to do now, rather then when there is an emergency and tensions and emotions are high.

Here is a list of suggested topics for you to discuss with your parents:

  1. Location of important documents

All the documentation and information in the world are useless if you can’t find it and use it. By starting with where the information is located you can uncover which information may be missing.

Make sure your parents have a safe place to store all sensitive and private information. If they have a safe, find out where it located, and where the key/combination is kept. Also ask if they have a safe deposit box. In order to access it, your name will have to be on file with the bank.

Important information you may need includes:

  • Health Care Surrogate
  • Power of Attorney
  • Catholic Living Will
  • Health and Life Insurance policies
  • Will or trust documents
  • Deeds
  • Vehicle titles
  • Savings bonds
  • Stock certificates
  • Pension information
  • Account statements for investment, retirement and bank accounts.
  1. Account registrations

Whether your parents’ accounts are registered in one name, in both names as joint owners, or have beneficiary designations, the way they are set up determines who controls the assets and how they will transfer.

Check beneficiary designations and make sure your parents’ beneficiary designations are up to date, including up to date names, addresses and phone numbers of all beneficiaries. Be sure they’ve designated both primary and contingent beneficiaries in case their primary beneficiary passes away before they do.

  1. Key Contacts

Be sure you have the names, addresses, phone numbers, websites, etc. 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.

In addition to professional contacts, ask your parents about personal contacts such as friends, extended family, priest, etc. and how to reach those people.

You may know some of them, but you probably don’t know all of them.

  1. Power Of Attorney

Everyone should have a durable power of attorney appointing someone to make financial decisions for them, if they are no longer capable of doing it themselves.

The Durable Power of Attorney allows the designated agent to file the parent’s income tax returns, withdraw funds from the parent’s IRA or other retirement accounts for the parent’s care, deal with credit card companies or insurance companies, make deposits and 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.

  1. Health Care Proxy

A health care power of attorney (proxy) is a written document which designates someone to make health care decisions on their behalf.

If your parents don’t have a health care proxy, the court system intervenes and will appoint a legal guardian, who may not follow your parents’ wishes.

The list of their doctors, and other health care professionals and health insurance policies we mentioned earlier will be needed. Be sure you have member ID numbers, long-term care policies, and any medications they may be taking.

  1. Catholic Living Will

A living will is a written document which sets forth a person’s wishes and gives instructions about health care when the person is unable to make those decisions.

As Catholics, health care decisions should be made in the light of our Faith. Morally correct decisions are based on our respect for the sanctity and dignity of life and acknowledge our dependence upon God. Our decisions must be rooted in the recognition that each of us is the steward of the gift of our life. This is a way to profess our Faith and help to ensure that the decisions about the care we receive when we cannot speak for ourselves are made in accord with our religious beliefs.

  1. Electronic Assets

Everyone has some sort of electronic assets.  Be sure you get details, including URLs; User IDs; personal identification numbers (PINs) or passwords; security questions and answers. Your parents should keep this information in a safe place you can access.

  1. Disposition of Personal Items

Do they have any special directions regarding how their assets are to be distributed (especially tangible personal property like jewelry, art, books, collectibles, furniture, etc.)?

Unless it’s unusually valuable these items are not covered by a will, so it is important for them to document anything they have promised to someone or anything they want to pass along to a specific individual.

  1. Final Arrangements

Though it’s probably the toughest question to ask, find out what your parents want for final arrangements. Review if they have a cemetery plot or prepaid mortuary arrangements. Do they have a preference regarding burial or cremation?  Are there special readings and songs they want at their funeral Mass?

This is one of the most important and possibly one of the most difficult discussions you will ever have with your parents and it is very easy to put it off. However, there can be a bright side to this process.  Sometimes in doing a review 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.

Don’t wait until it is too late. Those who accept this and face it will be far better prepared to deal with it when the time comes. Our death or illness may be many years away but it will come sooner or later. Isaiah 38:1 tells us, ”In those days, when Hezekiah was mortally ill, the prophet Isaiah, son of Amoz, came and said to him: “Thus says the Lord: Put your house in order, for you are about to die; you shall not recover.””
The Compass Catholic Set Your House In Order Bible is a great resource to use for these discussions.

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