Helping Your Aging Parents
The coronavirus and the global response to the pandemic have reshaped all of our lives—one of the hardest hurdles we face is the very distance between us. We want to do everything we can to help our loved ones, but what we can do and how to do it from afar are less clear.
One thing we can do is talk to each other. And though these conversations are never easy, the need for adult children to understand their parents’ wishes and plans in the event they need our assistance has never been clearer. Though this pandemic will pass, for many of us, it’s only a matter of time before we will be helping our aging parents manage their day-to-day lives.
This guide contains a number of suggestions for how to set up a formal family meeting to discuss the wide range of decisions and desires, both routine and weighty, with which your parent may need your help.
For more than 25 years, Adviser Investments has worked with hundreds of clients to ensure their aging family members are financially comfortable and well cared for. Since there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to working with your aging parents, we’ve outlined key steps to think about before, during and after that first meeting. The agenda checklist section offers detailed suggestions on the big areas that should be addressed: Finances, lifestyle, health care and legacy.
If you feel overwhelmed or uncomfortable raising the topic with your family, consider this guide an invitation for a more in-depth conversation with us. Whether you aim is to weather this crisis or to open the door to a larger conversation, we want to help. Whatever your approach, there’s no substitute for preparation.
Preparing for Your Family Meeting
- Define your goals. Whoever is involved in the planning, whether you and your parents, or you and your siblings or others, you need to decide on your top priorities for the meeting ahead of time and place them on a formal agenda.
- Decide on participants. Who, aside from you and your parents, will make the meeting a success? Your belligerent sibling, for example, might not be the best person to invite to a first meeting but, on the other hand might take offense if omitted. A family lawyer or financial adviser might also be a good choice if your parents are open to discussing financial or health-related affairs outside their closest relations. As financial advisers and planners, we have attended many such meetings at our clients’ request.
- Determine who should run the meeting. To be most productive, every meeting needs a leader to keep the conversation on track. The best choice will depend on family and personality dynamics. Pick the person your parents and other family members are most confident in and emotionally comfortable with. If you have a lawyer or adviser participating, they can provide guidance and make sure everyone is heard.
- How much should be shared? Do your parents want to reveal full financial details with all family members? If you anticipate a near-term change in lifestyle (such as downsizing your parents’ home, selling their car or hiring a care worker) you’ll need a more detailed picture of their finances. If they want to set boundaries on who knows what, it may make sense to have a private pre-meeting with whoever will be their financial point person and then speak in generalities at the larger gathering. Meetings can still be productive and valuable even without full disclosure since discussions and decisions encompass much more than just financial considerations.
- Set an agenda and schedule the meeting. Make an agenda (see the checklist on pages 3 and 4 for some ideas) and share it far enough in advance so that everyone has time to prepare. Decide where to meet—a family member’s house, an adviser’s office, a conference room at a hotel or a private room at a restaurant could all work depending on the size of your group—and set a date.
During the Meeting
- Review the agenda and stated goals. Remind participants that you’re working together as your parents’ advocates, not making their decisions for them. Is there a concern that must be addressed? Or is everything in reasonably good shape and your parents simply wish to do less upkeep? Compare the goals you and your parents identified before the meeting. Are they achievable? What’s the expected timeline for this transition? You may wish to discuss your parents’ experience with their parents— what worked, what didn’t, what would they have changed?
- Designate a note-taker. It isn’t enough for someone to simply agree to take notes. As they come up, check in after important points are discussed to be sure that they are being recorded.
- Create a concrete list of next steps. As you move from one topic to the next, sum up with concrete next steps. This will help keep the conversation focused. As you talk through the agenda and agree on next steps, make sure someone is assigned to handle each task. These tasks will form the basis of your family action-plan document.
- Appoint a coordinator. This point person will be responsible for checking in and keeping everyone on track after the meeting.
After the Meeting
Following up on the action plan agreed upon at the meeting will smooth the transition into managing your parents’ affairs and care. The plan should be a living document that is adjusted to your family’s needs and capabilities over time. Try to meet once a year to address any updates that need to be made. If your parents experience a health event, you may have to review this document and alter your action plan sooner.
- Share notes. Summarize the action plan created during the meeting, write it down and mail or email it to all attendees as well as those who might have been scheduled or wanted to attend but couldn’t.
- Follow-up and follow through. Review any outstanding responsibilities or items with the assigned partner or family member—and make sure your parents agree.
- Document review. Go over all legal and financial documents with your parents (will(s), trust documents, health care directives, powers of attorney, etc.). Is everything current and consistent (account owners, beneficiaries, etc.) or are updates required? Note that beneficiary designations on accounts supersede estate documents.
- Create a record archive. Make a safe storage plan for your family’s important records. Know where hard copies are kept so that you’ll be able to access them in case of emergency. Online accounts and passwords can be safely shared via apps such as LastPass or FidSafe. All Adviser Investments clients have access to their own personal financial website, which features a secure vault for digital document storage along with account aggregation and tracking tools.
- Self care. Finally, ask yourself if you need to make any personal or professional changes to adapt and accommodate this new responsibility. Is this an opportunity for you to get your own financial or legal affairs in order?
We’re Here to Help
We know it’s a lot to take in, especially when dealing with what can be a complicated and emotional topic. We should note that our advice assumes your parents are willing participants. Forcing the issue is unlikely to be productive, so if your parents say “no,” we’d suggest letting some time pass and offering your help again, later. People who are new to the idea and are initially resistant may reconsider with time or a bit of gentle persuasion, or if their health or life circumstances change.
In the meantime, consider this guide a resource—if you have any questions about it, how Adviser Investments approaches family meetings or your investment or financial planning needs, one of our experienced wealth planners would be happy to discuss them with you. Call or email us today at (800) 492-6868 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Family Meeting Agenda Checklist
The items on your family meeting agenda will vary depending on your loved ones’ needs and lifestyle. But before you can take a larger role and become a financial caregiver to your parents, all parties should have a clear sense of their broad priorities. Family meetings are a good opportunity to review your parents’ plans regarding not only their finances, but also their lifestyle, health care and legacy needs. This checklist can guide you when making an agenda.
Understanding your parents’ finances can help you and their advisers carry on the effort they have put into building their portfolio, make sure their lifestyle and legacy needs are met and protect them from fraud (request a free copy of our Investor Protection Checklist for more on the topic).
Planning for your parents’ lifestyle needs and desires will help them find a balance between their dreams and their budget while making sure they are safely covered on their journeys.
Even if your parents are in good health, it’s a good idea to review their current and future needs.
Legacy and Obligations
Talking about legacy plans and other obligations can help you manage your parents’ finances and prevent any surprises when it comes time to administer their estate (request a free copy of our Estate Checklist for more on this subject).
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Tax, legal and insurance information contained herein is general in nature, is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal or tax advice, or as advice on whether to buy or surrender any insurance products. Personalized tax advice and tax return preparation is available through a separate, written engagement agreement with Adviser Investments Tax Solutions. We do not provide legal advice, nor sell insurance products. Always consult a licensed attorney, tax professional, or licensed insurance professional regarding your specific legal or tax situation, or insurance needs.
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