When it’s time to discuss long term legal and financial options and how to best prepare for them, we recommend you have a conversation with your loved ones as early as possible.
If you believe your loved one is ready to openly discuss long term care issues, and the legal and financial issues that come with them, then you will need to ask a number of questions so that you can obtain important information and documents when the critical time arises.
Sometimes an aging parent will be in denial and become defensive and unwilling to discuss long-term care issues. In these situations, it may be wise to simply ask them for their advice. Here is one such approach:
“Dad, Lisa and I have wanted to ask you whether or not you have looked into long term care options and if you had any particular preferences or advice you would like to give us in this area?” In addition, you might want to add, “There are many issues to discuss like what you want your Health Care Directive to say with respect to instructing your doctor on your personal preferences should you become critically ill.”
This will shift the discussion from what the elder will need, to what the elder wants. This will give the elder a sense that he or she is in control of their future and that avoidance of these issues serves no one's interest.
Remember the goal is to empower your loved ones by providing specific information and a variety of legal and financial options to consider while they still have the mental capacity to make such decisions.
These are difficult discussions to have and you must remember not to get overly dramatic. You don’t need to remind them that someday soon, the “angel of death” will come knocking at their door and that they better be prepared to make some hard decisions. Not a good approach. Even if this is expressed in a kind and loving tone, it will not be appreciated. The important thing here is to make sure the elder knows how much you love them and how important they are to you and the rest of the family.
Once the elder is prepared to discuss their options and select from the resources available to them, you can begin to get specific about certain financial, legal and care issues such as:
Is the elder receiving Social Security? If so, how much and whether the amount has been properly calculated. We recommend having this amount be recalculated by Social Security especially if there have been changed circumstances.
Find out whether there are any pensions from prior employment.
Determine if your loved one is eligible for financial assistance. This would include programs like Medicare and Medicaid. You may also want to know if he or she qualifies for Food Stamps.
Find out if there is a life insurance policy, will, trust or any “pay-on-death” bank accounts. Make copies of all account numbers and statements and have them reviewed by an estate-planning attorney.
Find out where your loved one stores their federal and state tax returns, investment receipts and bank records.
You may be surprised to learn that there is private long-term medical insurance available. But don’t count on it, unfortunately, the elder law insurance data shows that less then ten percent of our elderly population carries long-term medical insurance.
Find out what types of community elder services are available in your neighborhood. This could help your loved one maintain some level of social life and independence.
Also, find out about the medications the elder is currently taking and how often. Make sure to put a written list together of all current medications, the dosage, and the doctors that prescribed them. Should the need for hospitalization be necessary, the medical intake team will need this information.
Finally, taking care of elder issues now rather than later will give you the time to investigate the options and get informed. This will give you the confidence and information you need to have a constructive and meaningful conversation with your loved one and obtain some closure on settling these important issues.