Sometimes it’s so easy to get caught up all that’s going on in the “now” that you stop planning for the future as much. Yet as hard as it is to think about, the time is going to come when you must have difficult conversations with your parents about their future. What kinds of documents do you need as you care for aging parents?
When caring for aging parents, be sure they have the documents on this checklist in place:
- Living trust or will
- Power of attorney for finances
- Power of attorney for health (living will)
- Funeral wishes
Ahead, we’ll discuss when the right time is to talk to your elderly parents about these documents, what your conversation should entail, and what these documents are. Although this isn’t an easy time, it is a necessary one, so you’re not going to want to miss this article.
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 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 your parent’s funeral wishes are or whether they’ve written a will yet. While nobody wants to broach these topics because they’re heart-wrenching, you can’t skip talking about these matters just because it makes you uncomfortable.
Otherwise, when your parent is no longer with you, you’ll have no idea what they would have wanted. 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. In fact, it’s ideal if your parent is of sound mind and body when making these decisions for themselves.
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 several years prior.
Which Documents Do Seniors Need?
While there are many legal documents every adult should have, the five most pertinent documents for seniors are as follows:
- Living trust
- Power of attorney for finances
- Power of attorney for health (living will)
- Funeral wishes
Explaining The Essential Documents All Seniors Need To Put In Place
Some of those documents might be unfamiliar to you. For example, what’s the difference between a living trust and a living will? Here’s an explanation of each document for your information.
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 a Caring.com study from 2017, when adults in the United States were surveyed regarding how many have a will, just 42 percent answered that they do. That means more than half of Americans lack a will.
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
Once you’ve discussed with your parent and had an attorney draw up a power of attorney, funeral wishes, will, and living trust as applicable, you will have a handful of very important documents between you.
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.
Although it’s not a pleasant conversation, you have to sit down with your senior parent to talk about their living trust, will, power of attorney over health and finances, and their funeral wishes. Having these documents will give you both greater peace of mind when the inevitable comes, so don’t delay!
*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.