Stan's World - The Talk
March 31, 2022
When you work with as many families as we do, there’s always a story. Some are comical in nature, and we get to share a laugh, while others are profoundly serious. Based upon lessons learned over the past 26 years, this Stan’s World is for every client who has living parents or adult children.
If you have senior parents, think of this as advance notice. There may come a day when you may have to provide some level of assistance to your parent(s). A degree of caretaker status is often bestowed upon us without warning, and that’s usually when the proverbial spam hits the fan. Frankly, few of us receive training for these roles1.
I know this is a delicate subject but see if you can initiate The Talk with your parents. (I acknowledge this is not easy to do.) The Talk involves your parents disclosing to you such critical information as:
- Where are their wills and other legal documents (e.g., power of attorney, health care proxy, etc.)?
- Where is the list of bank and investments accounts and associated passwords so they can be accessed?
- Who is their attorney? Accountant? Financial planner? Primary physician?
- Is there a safe deposit box? Where is the key? Who has access?
- Where do they want to be buried? Or where do they want their ashes distributed?
- What sort of end-of-life care do they want, and were their wishes put into writing?
- Do they have long-term care insurance? Life insurance?
By now, you get the point. It’s unfair for parents to burden their children without providing adequate information, and that’s the pitch to get The Talk started.
If you’re a senior with adult children, I implore you to engage them (or at least one of them) in a conversation about all the above and, to some degree, your personal finances. Sadly, we’ve been involved with situations where adult children had to assume care for parents, and they started with a knowledge base of zero.
You need to share enough information with your adult children so they can help you when the going gets rough and you need a little help. I’m writing to persuade you to do something far in advance of when that day might come. (If you read Jack Reacher novels, I’m using Reacher’s philosophy: “Hope for the best, plan for the worst.”)
I recently was on a multi-discipline virtual panel discussing retirement. One of the panelists told the story of a female client who didn’t know anything about her own finances. Only after her husband passed did she discover she had a net worth of $700. $700!! If you think that’s blatantly unfair to do to your spouse, the feelings are similar if you withhold critical information from a child who might take on a caretaker role for you. (Credit where credit is due: The term The Talk was used by an attorney on the panel.)
The Talk is merely the first step. A family member, for example, can’t call a doctor for medical information about a parent and expect them to disclose confidential information. Doctors and hospitals only respond when presented with documents that give the family member the authority to either make decisions or have information shared. Lacking those papers, care decisions will be made by others. Who would prefer that option?
I’m aware that revealing all to an adult child can feel like the first step to losing control. In fact, you’re taking control because you’re deciding who will make decisions for you if you can’t do so in the future. You’re not relinquishing your authority over anything. Rather, you’re delegating authority as needed in the future. And if you don’t want to discuss account balances with family members, just reveal where accounts are held.
For older clients, here’s another sensitive subject for you to ponder. It would be worthwhile for a trusted family member, your attorney, your accountant, and/or your financial planner to all know who to call should any of them detect a decline in your cognitive behavior. People who have had similar discussions with you for years may detect subtle differences that may warrant further conversation with your loved ones. I know this is uncomfortable to think about, but people who respect you and value your friendship need to know where to turn if they think anything is awry.
I often joke that aging isn’t for the faint of heart, and I’ll now confess that it’s not a joke. We’ve been involved with too many situations whereby family members were delayed in gaining access to financial or medical information. Frankly, there’s no luxury of time during a crisis.
If it’s time for you to either ask your parents about their situation or share with your children your thoughts on what’s next, call us if you’re not sure how to proceed. If we don’t have the wisdom, at least we have a lot of life experiences to draw from that we’re happy to share with you.
If nothing else, writing this column made me realize I need to have a few more conversations myself.