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When It’s Time to Talk to Your Aging Parents About Planning for Illness and Incapacity, Here Are Some Essentials to Include

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Millions of older baby boomers – the “leading edge” of those born between 1945 and 1965 – are now well into their 70s. Moreover, if statistics are correct, most of them are not engaging in vital estate planning conversations with their adult kids.

This reluctance to have “The Talk” about estate plans has been corroborated time and time again in behavioral surveys. For example, the 2022 Money and Family Study from Ameriprise Financial included this revealing quote: “Despite their intentions to pass assets from one generation of their family to the next, only 19 percent are completely transparent with their relatives about their finances.” Many of the rest are letting their kids know little or nothing about their plans and hopes as they grow older.

Given that hesitancy, it might be the adult kids who have to prompt the conversation. With that in mind, we’re bringing to your attention this recent Kiplinger article on the subject in which Massachusetts attorney and CPA Allen Falke offers his suggestions on what to talk about and how. We hope these ideas can prompt some helpful conversations between you and your ultra-private parents.

Knowing When and How to Broach Sensitive Topics

Falke begins by acknowledging demographic reality. “Today,” he writes, “many people are living longer, but that means the ‘sandwich generation’ (i.e., the generation of people responsible for taking care of both their children and their aging parents) is growing.”

This tension contributes to a communication dilemma. “Many children of aging parents struggle with the idea of when to approach their parents about a plan for their senior years,” Falke observes, while aging parents themselves “are uncomfortable with the role reversal and hesitate to initiate conversations.”

Falke suggests that the sensitivity is less likely to involve what happens upon death – many boomer parents have already determined that. “The issue to consider next is how to ensure things are taken care of if your parents have health problems,” he writes. “It is important to have this conversation because advanced planning can alleviate stress, and circumstances can change quickly as your parents age.”

Here are his top issues to address with your aging parents.

Are Mom and Dad’s Legal Documents in Order?

“Your parents should each have a durable power of attorney and a healthcare proxy,” Falke writes. “In fact, everyone over age 18 should have these documents.”  (Falke addresses this issue in another Kiplinger article published a few months back, called Three Legal Documents Your Child Should Sign When They Turn 18.)  

He goes on to offer a simple explanation of the purpose of each. “Should one or both of your parents need care either at home or in a nursing home, these documents will ensure that the care that is provided is in line with their wishes,” Falke states. “A durable power of attorney allows an agent to make financial decisions on a person’s behalf, while a healthcare proxy allows someone to make medical decisions on a person’s behalf.”

Typically, says the article, your parents will have designated each other as agents.  But your role as son or daughter is still critical. “In the case of a parent who’s in ill health, it is advised that you have a conversation with the other parent about different scenarios that would require him or her to make medical decisions and pay medical expenses,” Falke advises.

Should both of your parents face ill health at the same time – a common scenario – you’ll need to step in, ideally as a designated backup agent. This designation should be part of both the power of attorney and the healthcare proxy documents. There may be other situations in which one spouse may no longer be best suited to make responsible decisions, in which case you as son or daughter should be the primary designee.

Are Mom and Dad’s Assets Protected?

As hard as health care discussions can be, talking about transfer of assets can be even more sensitive. “Most seniors don’t want to lose control of their assets, and a conversation about protecting assets through the transfer of assets is a difficult conversation to have,” Falke warns. “The best way to address this concern is to have an open and honest conversation about your parents’ financial situation and the assets they would need in their control to feel financially secure.”

Falke writes that the greatest danger of losing assets relates to costs of long-term care. “Any assets remaining in their control could be at risk if they experience a medical event that requires long-term care in a nursing home or extensive home care,” he writes. As we discuss frequently here on the blog, Medicaid can be used to pay for nursing home care, but “typically an individual is required to use all of their own assets to pay for their medical care before they are eligible to use Medicaid benefits,” Falke adds.

Transfer of Assets Needs to be Done Strategically

Falke writes about the need to protect assets in cases involving long-term care through the transfer of assets. A tool Rajiv Nagaich discusses frequently on the radio and in seminars is the Safe Harbor Trust, which was the subject of this Blog article that we ran a few months ago.

“If your parents are married, assets can be easily transferred from the ill parent to the healthy parent at any time,” says Falke. But other transfers of assets should ideally be executed five or more years before a long-term care need arises. That’s because of Medicaid’s five-year look-back window which governs what assets might need to be given back to Uncle Sam to help pay for care costs.

Falke also discusses various types of trusts which can be extremely useful in asset protection. We won’t take the space here to discuss the topic further but we encourage you to contact AgingOptions or Life Point Law, or attend a seminar with Rajiv Nagaich, to see how a trust can help you and your parents plan for a more secure future.

You Need to Gauge Parents’ Willingness to Engage

Finally, Falke writes, the timing of these potentially delicate conversations becomes more urgent with age. “As a rule of thumb, it is recommended that you start having these conversations with your parents when they reach their 70s, or if you start to notice memory loss or other health conditions,” he recommends. “Of course, you are the best gauge of your parents’ physical and mental health, and only you can determine the appropriate time to initiate this conversation.”

Regardless, facing the reluctance is important. “It might be uncomfortable at first,” the article concludes, “but you’ll appreciate having these things worked out ahead of time as your parents age.”

Breaking News: Rajiv’s New Book is Here!

We have big news! The long-awaited book by Rajiv Nagaich, called Your Retirement: Dream or Disaster, has been released and is now available to the public.  As a friend of AgingOptions, we know you’ll want to get your copy and spread the word.

You’ve heard Rajiv say it repeatedly: 70 percent of retirement plans will fail. If you know someone whose retirement turned into a nightmare when they were forced into a nursing home, went broke paying for care, or became a burden to their families – and you want to make sure it doesn’t happen to you – then this book is must-read.

Through stories, examples, and personal insights, Rajiv takes us along on his journey of expanding awareness about a problem that few are willing to talk about, yet it’s one that results in millions of Americans sleepwalking their way into their worst nightmares about aging. Rajiv lays bare the shortcomings of traditional retirement planning advice, exposes the biases many professionals have about what is best for older adults, and much more.

Rajiv then offers a solution: LifePlanning, his groundbreaking approach to retirement planning. Rajiv explains the essential planning steps and, most importantly, how to develop the framework for these elements to work in concert toward your most deeply held retirement goals.

Your retirement can be the exciting and fulfilling life you’ve always wanted it to be. Start by reading and sharing Rajiv’s important new book. And remember, Age On, everyone!

(originally reported at www.kiplinger.com)

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