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Preparing for the unexpected makes life easier as family members age

by Amanda Lambert | Contributor
Feb 28, 2020


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None of us can predict the future, which is why we should prepare for the unexpected. When it comes to aging, human nature seems to dictate that we don’t necessarily like planning. It is preferable to go along with the status quo and hope that nothing bad will happen. Why not wait until something happens and then make a decision? Because good, well thought-out decisions aren’t usually made during times of stress. It is amazing what can come up when there is a fall or other medical crisis. What are mom’s medications? Does she have advance directives? What is her insurance? Who are her medical providers? Who has been paying bills? Any long-term estate and retirement planning should include advance directives and health care and financial powers of attorney.

How to start the conversation

Health care and finances are delicate subjects because privacy is important to everyone. As a family member ages, these issues can get complicated. No one wants to admit that they can’t handle their own finances or health care. Here are some tips on how to approach the conversation.

  • Show respect. Make it clear that you are not trying to intrude or “get control.” Acknowledge your family member’s independence and autonomy. Convey concern without judgment.
  • Explain the reasons why you want to have this conversation. Most people respond more favorably to the truth. Be transparent but not alarmist. Lay out the reasons why having health care and financial information will help you help them. There are ways to plan for the future without having to give up control now.
  • Prepare possible solutions. Some family members will hand over the reins of their health care and financial information. Other situations require more finesse. Start by asking for the basics and go from there. Have ideas available such as meeting with an estate planning attorney to get affairs in order.
  • Accept that the conversation may be contentious. Don’t push things if they aren’t going well. Try again later.

Health care is crucial; a power of attorney is critical

It is essential to get as much health care information as possible. Organize this information in a notebook, on your phone or online. That way you can refer to it as needed and make changes or additions along the way. Without a legal health care power of attorney, you will not be able to access your family member’s health care providers. In some states, a health care power of attorney only requires everyone’s signatures. Here’s what to include in your health care file:
  • Health care providers.
    This means everyone! Who they are, where they are, what they do. Include contact information.
  • Insurance information.
    There is a significant difference between traditional Medicare and a Medicare Advantage plan. Get copies of all insurance and prescription drug cards.
  • Medications.
    Get a list of all current medications and who is prescribing them. If possible, confirm that your family member is taking what is prescribed. Expired medications may need to be properly disposed of.
  • Health care diagnoses.
    There may be some surprises here. People are very good at concealing their health care problems. With health care power of attorney, you can request all medical records on your family member.

Finances

If your family member becomes incapacitated or otherwise unable to manage their finances, you need to be able to step in. Or, you may discover that your loved one is the victim of financial exploitation. Although most financial exploitation occurs at the hands of a family member, financial scams are rampant. It is estimated that financial exploitation accounts for a loss of between $3 billion and $37 billion a year. Without some legal authority it won’t be possible to intervene. Here is our advice on how to manage your family member’s finances before a problem arises.

  • Create an estate plan.
    A thorough estate plan should cover both health care and financial powers of attorney.
  • Get a financial power of attorney.
    If doing an estate plan is not possible, try to at least get a financial power of attorney. Use an elder law or estate planning attorney. In some states the financial power of attorney only needs to be signed by the interested parties and notarized.
  • Consider a trust.
    Again, consult an attorney to set this up. A trust puts all of a person’s assets and property into one “basket.” There can be one or more trustees that gain authority depending on the circumstances.
  • With permission and authority, monitor all financial accounts.
    This way you can spot any suspicious activity or detect any problems with managing finances.
  • Health care providers.
    This means everyone! Who they are, where they are, what they do. Include contact information.
  • Set up auto pay.
    If your family member is struggling to pay bills or keep track of finances, auto pay can be a great solution.

End-of-life wishes

End-of-life planning should be done regardless of age. After all, none of us know when we or how we will die or become disabled. Circumstances change, and end-of-life directives can change. For an aging family member who may have medical problems, it is very important to know what that person wants – and does not want. It is not unusual for a family to be in the stressful situation of having to make these decisions on behalf of someone. This happens when the person becomes incapacitated or unable to express their wishes. All end-of-life directives need to be written down and distributed to all family members and healthcare providers. Issues for discussion:

  • Under what circumstances would you want all treatment to stop?
  • Do you want invasive interventions like a tracheostomy or percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy if there is no hope for meaningful recovery?
  • Is pain control important to you? What kind of pain control do you want?
  • Do you want to be resuscitated regardless of outcome? Or, under what circumstances is resuscitation acceptable?
  • Is there a funeral plan in place that designates whether you want an earth burial or cremation?

These are tough questions and discussions to have. Having open, thoughtful and respectful conversations will help now, and in the future. Start as early as possible, but recognize that it is never too late to begin this process.

Alliance America can help

An Alliance America financial advisor can assist you in maximizing your retirement resources and help achieve your retirement goals. Alliance America’s planning process is focused on personalized retirement income planning. As fiduciaries, our advisors are required to act in your best interest, and we are dedicated to helping you achieve the retirement lifestyle you seek. You can request a no-obligation consultation by calling 888-864-2542 today.

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