Updated March 14, 2021 – As hard as it is to think about, the time is going to come when all family caregivers need to begin having the difficult conversations with their aging parent(s) about their future. It’s difficult to find a good time to do this so we recommend that you make a date with your senior loved one(s) for this purpose.
There are many issues to consider such as different types of elder care, physical health, aging in place and more. Financial decisions have to be made as well as other legal matters.
This aging parents checklist we created can help family members of an aging parent and/or other older adults maneuver through the difficult and emotional maze of being a caregiver for seniors.
Talking To Aging Parents About Changes
It’s not easy to think about, nor to admit, but your parents have a finite amount of time on this earth (as we all do). As they’ve aged and entered their senior years, that fact gets harder to ignore.
This means that you will need to have an open, frank conversation about difficult topics like…
- what their funeral wishes are
- can they pay for home care
- how much are they getting from social security and their retirement plan
- do they have long-term care insurance
- who is their financial advisor
- have they considered living in an assisted living facility
- will they consider hospice care
- what are they expecting from their adult children
While nobody wants to broach these topics because they’re heart-wrenching, you can’t skip talking about these matters just because it makes everyone uncomfortable.
Flying by the seat of your pants when mourning a major loss, such as a parent, is not the way you want to do things.
Really, it’s never too early to have the conversation about what will happen to your senior parent after they pass on or if they suffer a major illness or develop issues with memory loss, etc.
In fact, it’s ideal if your parent is of sound mind and body when making these decisions for themselves.
Of course, I understand that you may meet some resistance or outright anger. Believe me, I’ve been there. But you still need to try.
…Instead of telling your parent what to do, ask how they’d prefer to solve problems. Elicit their priorities and recognize their values when making suggestions. Give them choices whenever possible. Be attuned to their unexpressed needs and fears.AARP.org
Painful health conditions and mental diseases such as Alzheimer’s can change a person and may cause your senior parent to answer questions about their future differently than they would have before they became ill.
In this article we’re going to go over the types of legal documents that seniors and their families should have prepared.
We’re also going to discuss issues relating to personal care matters in case your elderly parents are unable to care for themselves any longer.
And finally, we’ll go over some of the different housing options available – which are more than you may think.
What Legal Documents Do I Need For My Elderly Parents?
There are essentially 17 legal documents that you and your senior loved ones should have prepared.
- Durable Medical Power of Attorney – Also called a Health Care Proxy, Healthcare Power of Attorney, or Living Will, a Durable Medical Power Of Attorney is a type of advance directive that designates a person to make healthcare decisions for you if you are not able to do so.
- Durable Power of Attorney for financial decisions – A Durable Power of Attorney is a document that gives one individual the legal right to appoint another person to act on their behalf in financial affairs.
- HIPAA release form for all physicians – Most clinics, hospitals, and dental or healthcare providers have their own HIPAA release forms for patients, which authorizes the disclosure of all or a part of the principal’s health details.
- A will, estate plan, or a trust – A will is a binding legal document that comes into effect after the death of the individual writing the will (known as a testator).
- End of life instructions – a difficult topic but a necessary one. This includes decisions to be made about Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) wishes, Hospice, Organ donations and funeral wishes.
- Birth certificates – Seniors (and everyone) should keep their birth certificates somewhere that is accessible to their adult children or other loved ones.
- Deeds to the home – Knowing where the deed to the house the senior is living in can make the process of selling or changing home ownership that much easier.
- Bank account information – Adult children should at least know at which financial institutions their senior parents do their banking.
- Financial account(s) information – Just like bank account info, stocks, bonds, and brokerage accounts and contact information should be recorded somewhere.
- Insurance policies – Should the senior need medical attention, do you know who their insurance carrier is, aside from Medicare?
- Veteran’s discharge papers – When vets are discharged, they receive discharge papers that are needed for such things as VA benefits, reduced mortgage rates, VA pensions, etc.
- Death certificate of spouse, if applicable – A death certificate may be necessary to sell the house, the car, transfer accounts, etc.
- Divorce decrees – If the senior has been divorced, having divorce decree available will spell out any conditions that adult children should be aware of.
- Citizenship papers – Adult children or the relatives who are caring for an elderly loved one should be able to locate citizenship papers if the senior has become a citizen.
- Retirement accounts – Knowing this information ensures that the individual and their heirs receive the benefits they deserve.
- Debt documentation – This includes information for credit cards, loans, purchase contracts, rental agreements, etc. These accounts will need to be paid.
- Vehicle titles – If your senior parent can no longer drive or becomes incapacitated, someone will need to sell their vehicle, so the title should be kept in an easily accessible place
- Social security number – It’s not a bad idea to have at least a copy of the social security card on file just in case it’s needed for any reason. Although that information would most likely already be recorded with some of the other documents listed above.
Although it’s not technically a “legal document” I would also urge family members to have access to their senior parents’ medical information such as the list of physicians they see, medications they take, past medical history, etc.
If any of these documents are in a safe deposit box then access to that box should be shared with someone.
If for whatever reason you would prefer to keep the documents at home then consider a fireproof and waterproof home safe like this one.
Explaining These Essential Documents All Seniors Need To Put In Place
Some of the documents we mention above may be unfamiliar to you. For example, what’s the difference between a living trust and a living will?
Here’s an explanation of some of these documents that are listed above.
A revocable living trust gives the senior control over their personal property, such as vehicles, real estate, bank accounts, and other investments.
Your elderly parent would be in possession of the above for their life, but after their death, the living trust would determine where these valuables would go and to whom.
Living trusts, being revocable, means the senior parent does not have to make a decision that sticks until very close to their death.
They can create and change a living trust or even cancel it altogether.
Those who receive the benefits of the living trust, such as yourself or a sibling, are trustees. You can also add a spouse of yours or a sibling as a co-trustee if your elderly parent allows it.
Power Of Attorney For Finances
The next two areas concern power of attorney.
You may recall from our other blog post that power of attorney grants you the authority to make decisions in lieu of your senior parent(s).
For example, perhaps your parents have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia, and thus their decision-making abilities are nowhere near what they used to be.
You would act for them while they’re still alive.
We’ll talk first about power of attorney for finances.
As you probably guessed, this form of power of attorney would put you in charge of your parents’ finances and how they’re managed.
Unless you know the kinds of choices your parents would make regarding their finances, it’s ideal to have the power of attorney conversation with them when they’re still in relatively good physical and mental health.
Like a living trust, power of attorney is revocable, but it’s not as easy for your elderly parent to cancel or transfer this power.
Instead, they would need to produce a written notice of revocation in many states.
Thus, an attorney should emphasize to your parents the importance of choosing the right power of attorney, be that you or someone else in the family.
Power Of Attorney For Health
The other area of power of attorney that seniors need documented is power of attorney for health (also known as a living will).
This has nothing to do with the financial aspect of your elderly parents’ lives, but rather, their health decisions.
For instance, if your parent fell into a coma, would they want to be kept alive or would they rather be taken off life support? If they could be prescribed a new medication, would they want it or not?
If you are designated as the power of attorney for health for your parents, it means that you’re the one in control of making these decisions.
So again, it helps to have known what your senior parents would want, if that’s possible.
The earlier you can have this second difficult conversation, the better.
This way, you can ensure your elderly parents get the care they need for themselves, even if they can’t vocalize or otherwise express that they need it.
According to an 2020 estate planning study conducted by Trust & Will in partnership with Care.com – when adults in the United States were surveyed regarding how many have a will, just 32% answered that they do.
That’s a drop of 10% since the previous survey conducted in 2017.
A will determines who will receive which assets after your elderly parents die.
Wills also encompass what happens to those under a senior’s care, such as their adult children or even pets. This document is also known as a testament.
Lots of families fight over wills when they’re not clear, so you should really encourage your senior parents to sit down and create a will they’re happy with.
Then, they should get it notarized in front of witnesses so the will holds more water if it’s ever contested in court.
Not all types of wills are the same, by the way. Here are some will types your parents might write:
- Mutual will: If your parents have been married for as long as you can remember, they might want a mutual will. This ensures that both parties must follow the same rules of the will. This means, for example, if your father were to die before your mother, she couldn’t later change the will to suit her better.
- Pour-over will: If you have an active trust for your senior parents, a pour-over will ensures the assets flow from the will to the trustee or vice-versa.
- Oral will: This will is spoken only but does have witnesses who hear the will being orated. That said, most courts cannot uphold oral wills because of their very nature, so they’re considered the flimsiest type of will.
*NOTE: As the adult child or caretaker, it doesn’t hurt to create your own will at this time if you haven’t already.
Trust me, I’ve had to do it, and planning a parent’s funeral is one of the worst ordeals you will ever have to endure.
What made it at least somewhat easier was that I had my parent’s own funeral wishes to use as a guideline.
A written document of funeral wishes is simply your parent expressing what they want after their death and during the funeral.
For example, will their organs be donated or not? What about their whole body? Do they want their body left undisturbed after their death or do they not mind if their body is moved? Do they wish to be cremated or buried? Do they prefer a lavish funeral or a simple, inexpensive one?
Here’s an example of what a funeral wishes document can look like. This is a simple one, admittedly, but a good starting point.
If you want, your elderly parents can also go into detail about such matters as:
- How friends and family will be notified about the funeral
- What kind of casket they want
- What kind of ashes container they prefer
- What their epitaph should look like
- Which cemetery they want to be buried in
- A certain song or a prayer they wish to have read during the service
How To Organize Elderly Parent’s Papers
It’s up to you if you keep these documents at home yourself or with your parents. If it’s the latter, you should know where your parents are storing the documents.
The papers should also be easily accessible so you can pull them out and talk about them as the need arises.
Every two or three years, you might want to revisit the provisions in each of these documents and determine with your elderly parent if the provisions have changed.
If your parent is already in poor health, then go over the documents annually instead of every two years.
Remember, these documents tell the court such pertinent information as to where your parent wants to be buried, what kind of medical or end-of-life care they would like, and who will receive their assets. You do not want to accidentally lose the paperwork!
If it’s legal in your state, you might even think of making a copy of the documents, although a copied document might not hold up in court like the real deal.
About Your Parents’ Financial Health
Another tricky topic to discuss with your senior parents in a family meeting is about money – their money.
Some financial information should come out when you’re working on putting together the list of legal documents we mentioned above but some additional things to be discussed could include:
- Do your parents have enough to cover any home care assistance if it’s needed?
- Is there enough money to cover out of pocket medical needs? This would apply mostly to equipment and/or home modifications that Medicare or Medicaid do not cover.
- Are the potential costs of a funeral covered and planned for?
- What exactly are their social security benefits?
- Can they help to pay for any respite care that family caregivers may need?
Having the answers and information about these issues will help to put everyone at ease about what needs to be done, who can do what and can truly help to give your elderly parents (and the entire family) a very good quality of life moving forward.
Personal Care Matters
In my personal experience, many older adults do not want to think about a time when they may need help for their activities of daily living.
But the truth is, almost everyone needs a little help here and there. The sooner these issues can be discussed, the better.
Here are some topics to consider:
- What is your parents’ daily routine? Knowing this can help you all to make the best decision as to what type of extra help they may need.
- What is their current level of physical activity? In other words – are they doing some exercise or are they mostly sedentary?
- What are their current medical conditions and physical challenges? Are they chronic, may they get worse? If it’s a possibility that your elderly parent may end up in a wheelchair then specific housing options and hiring hands on care may have to be discussed.
- Are there any problems associated with meal prep or grocery shopping, etc? Can a meal delivery service be considered, if needed?
- Is driving a problem or a potential one? If so, what plans can be made to get your senior loved one to their medical appointments, social activities, etc.?
- If the adult children live far away – what type of support system is available for the elderly parents?
It may also be a good idea to take some time to interview some a home health care agency (a few actually) just in case you may need to use one in the future.
You may also want to speak to a geriatric care manager – especially if your aging parents live far away from you. This person can be your liason and advocate for your parent(s).
Senior Housing Options
A majority of seniors say that they want to age in place, grow old in their own home.
Of course, this is only ideal if their house is a safe environment for them.
It may be that the cost of home modifications would be too high. It may be more prudent to move to a senior living community, an assisted living community or downsizing to a smaller home or co-housing situation.
There are quite a few senior housing options available – read more about them here.
Another important issue to discuss is about long term care.
If your aging parent is adamant about not being put in a nursing home then the family can begin planning on what other options they can look into just in case a need for 24 hour medical care is required.
Although it’s not a pleasant conversation, you have to sit down with your senior parent to talk about these very important things that can help to make the lives of your senior parents and yourself easier as they age.
You may find yourself in the position of being a new caregiver and with that comes the responsibility of helping your aging loved ones through physical and emotional health, through legal affairs and possible housing changes and more.
Through it all – we do want to remind you that as a caregiver it is extremely important that you care for yourself first and foremost. This time of your life can be a good experience but not if you are exhausted and becoming ill yourself.
*DISCLAIMER: We are not attorneys and this information should not be taken as legal advice. Readers of this website should contact an attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular legal matter. Any reliance you place on the above information is strictly at your own risk.