In this eye-opening article in US News, featured elsewhere on this week’s AgingOptions blog, reporter Lisa Esposito profiles a son who faced frustrating challenges in trying to assume control over his mother’s affairs during her severe mental decline. He had actually done his homework and thought he was well-prepared. Yet even with good pre-planning and solid knowledge of the digital world, he wasn’t prepared for the obstacles he would face along the way.
The bottom line from this sobering article: “There’s no playbook” for adult children who find themselves assuming the financial and personal affairs of a parent in decline. It’s probably going to take more time and create more headaches than you realize. In time, as you serve your parent and the rest of your family in a diligent way, the eventual pay-off (emotional or otherwise) is likely to be well worth it. But the journey can be extremely difficult and draining.
US News Article Provides a Family Checklist
Because the original US News article by reporter Lisa Esposito was so long, we decided to offer this second article as a “part two.” The man profiled in the story, William Pabst, found himself meeting repeated obstacles with his mother’s financial and legal affairs as her mental capacity quickly deteriorated. Moreover, these difficulties and frustrations did not disappear after her death in 2020. So, to help others facing a similar predicament, Pabst decided to act.
In light of his own experience, he created a comprehensive array of checklists to help families (in the words of US News) “plan ahead, anticipate complications and avoid frustration.” We’re sharing this list in hopes that it might benefit our AgingOptions blog readers. We want to emphasize, however, that no checklist can take place of good professional advice and careful advance planning, something Pabst and US News strongly encourage.
With that in mind, let’s review the US News list.
A Parent’s Items You’ll Need to Get Your Hands On
Here are a few items you’ll need in your physical possession, says US News:
- Cellphone, and screen lock code, for two-step account access verifications
- Computer, along with login and password
- Driver’s license
- Insurance and Medicaid cards
- Credit and debit cards
- House keys
- Car keys
- Safe-deposit box key
A Parent’s Data You’ll Need at Your Fingertips
- Email address(es) and password(s)
- Social security number
- Date of birth
Streamlining Access to Your Parent’s Accounts
Before we share this tip, we should note that this recommendation reflects the view of someone who is especially tach-savvy. Pabst suggests creating a new, dedicated Gmail address in your parent’s name and then using that new email as the login for all your parent’s online accounts. “This is especially critical if your parent is still attempting to access accounts, possibly getting locked out, and possibly having their credentials unsafely written on pieces of paper at their computer,” US News explains.
The article also recommends switching all communication with these accounts to the electronic option and canceling all “snail mail.” However, for some of these accounts, we suggest that might not always be the best choice, especially if you’re able to visit a bank branch or insurance office in person and conduct business the old-fashioned way – face to face. Also, so-called “snail mail” does create a good paper trail.
Nevertheless, US News recommends setting up online access to accounts (if your parent never did) for:
- Bank accounts
- Retirement accounts
- Social Security Administration
- State income/property tax
- Life insurance
- Prescription mail service/local pharmacy
- Homeowners insurance
- Auto insurance, AAA
- Utilities: Electric, gas, cable
- Phones: landline and mobile
- Turbo Tax or other tax assistance
- Doctors’ offices/patient portals
- Health insurance
- Homeowners’ Association or condo board, if applicable
Hire a Good Lawyer and Draw Up These Documents
- Durable power of attorney, also called a POA, in the parent’s state of residence (to access their accounts and take care of their home when they can’t)
- Medical advance directive/power of attorney (to tell doctors and hospitals and nursing home staff what to do or not do, and bill you for, when the patient can’t advocate for themselves)
- Living will (if applicable), to have in-hand to enforce their wishes when specific conditions dictate switching from life support to palliative care
- Will and testament to take executor control of all their accounts, possessions and so forth, because upon death the power of attorney is no longer valid
- Letter of instruction for burial or cremation, funeral arrangements and so on, or designation of someone authorized to make decisions
- Trusts for protecting their financial estate against probate
(One piece of advice we can echo from experience involves your parent’s death certificate. “When the time comes, get more copies of the death certificate than seems necessary,” the article suggests, and we agree. Many institutions will require a copy and you’ll need extras.)
While your parent is still living, once you have the power of attorney, provide a copy to your parent’s banks, who may require an additional notary. As US News also advises, “Determine if you’re already a joint account owner. Your parent may have certificates of deposit, savings and stocks you didn’t know about. Have hard copies of relevant documents in your vehicle or carrying case to bring to hospitalizations and appointments.”
Essential Change-of-Address Notifications
If you’re not getting physical mail from your parent’s residence, you may need to submit change-of-address notices to:
- The Postal Service
- The Social Security Administration
- The IRS
- Your parent’s state tax agency
- Your parent’s Department of Motor Vehicles or Motor Vehicle Administration
Special Requirement When Selling a Parent’s Home
If part of caring for your loved one involves selling a home, these tips apply:
- Make sure you can locate the deed
- Hire an agent, stager, deep cleaning service
- Hire an attorney and/or accountant
- Arrange a home inspection
- Make arrangements for services such as trash removal and termite/pest management
- Count on needing days or weeks to go through their belongings and empty the house, depending on how many hands to help, and how sentimental you are.
The US News article offers this important added advice for home-sellers. “Be prepared to deal with neighbors and inquirers. They may be trusted persons who have a spare key and you didn’t know, or they may be the last people whom you want to be aware that the home is unattended.”
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(originally reported at https://health.usnews.com)