Oct 26, 2014

Keep your eyes open when visiting aging parents at Thanksgiving

Calls to assisted living residences always spike right after Thanksgiving.  That's not coincidence: Those calls are from adult children concerned about the parents they just visited. Our office gets more calls from adult children at this time, too.

Thanksgiving is is one of the few opportunities many children and parents have to spend time with one another. If you're a parent, why not take a few moments to tell your adult kids about where your important documents are, and how to access them? What you would like them to do in the event you have a medical crisis? Give them some general idea of your finances? (You don't need to discuss specific inheritances, or show them bank statements.) This key information will prevent your children from being blindsided if you become disabled, run into a medical emergency, or when you pass away. If your kids express discomfort with the conversation, let them know it gives you great peace of mind to provide them with this information, and that you really appreciate them hanging in there for "the talk."

On the other hand, if you are an adult child who wants to initiate this conversation, you may find your parents resistant. You can't make your parents talk, and you certainly don't want to turn your holiday visit into an inquisition! Let them know you really would like the information for your own peace of mind, so that you will have some idea of what to do if they run into trouble. 

If your parent still resists, just look around: You can learn a lot about their circumstances through casual conversation and observation.What should you look for? For starters, is the house in good order? Are there unopened bills piling up? Is the house physically safe? Is your parent exhibiting any out-of-the-ordinary behaviors? Showing signs of significant declining health like weight loss or a different gait? Are the refrigerator and pantry stocked? If you go for a drive with your parent, how is his/her driving? Does your parent's hearing and vision seem okay? If your parent wishes and you are in town for a sufficiently long period of time, your parent might even want you to accompany him/her to a doctor's appointment or two. This is also a good time to get a list of their doctors and prescriptions.

If you parent is forthcoming, find out about their safe deposit box, insurance coverage, and whether they have a durable power of attorney, living will, trust or will. If they have these documents, where are they kept? I have had people tell me they it was only when they inquired about these matters during a family get-together that they learned they had been named as their parent's attorney-in-fact, trustee or personal representative! If your parents have not done any estate planning,  this is a good time to encourage them to do so.

The AARP offers a good checklist of what to observe and ask when visiting your parents. But go slowly and go easy. Remember, this is Thanksgiving. Enjoy!

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