Important Information You Must Save for Your Elderly Parents

Every time I speak before groups of babyboomers and their elderly parents I remind them of the importance of getting all their critical information down on paper or in a computer file that can be accessed by the family if there is an emergency.

What kind of information do you need close at hand? Copies of wills and trusts, durable powers of attorney, health care proxies and living wills should all be readily available. In addition the names and contact information for any family advisers(attorney, doctor, minister, banker etc.) should also be accessible.

Financial information such as the name and account numbers for bank and investment accounts should be listed. In addition the beneficiary statements for IRA’s, annuities and life insurance policies should be close at hand. Make sure these are up to date, and the beneficiary has not already passed on. Also make sure there are contingent beneficiaries listed if the primary beneficiary is deceased when the funds are released.

Last and perhaps more important than ever before. Make sure the internet addresses, usernames and passwords for any online financial accounts are readily available. When one of my clients passed away, his wife did not know the internet accounts he had utilized to manage his investments. The institutions would not give her any information about the accounts. She eventually had to hire an IT specialist to hack into his accounts and it took months!

A Guide for Babyboomers helping their elderly parents

A Guide for Babyboomers helping their elderly parents

Save info on important documents for your parents.There are a few ways to store all this information. One is a simple three ring binder. If you purchase my book “Can We Talk, A Financial Guide for Babyboomers Assisting Their Elderly Parents.” there is a section at the end of the book called the Lifefolio that has forms available for everything I have mentioned above. You can either tear those pages out or copy them and put them in the binder.

Another approach is to copy all the information digitally into a cloud system such as Dropbox or Google Documents. Then all family members who are authorized can access the information from any computer or tablet connected to the internet.

Whichever way you do it, do it now. You never know when there might be an emergency and you will need to access critical information for your parents.

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Do Not Resuscitate?

Many of us mistakenly believe that if we have gone to the trouble of having our parents complete a living will and have had an attorney prepare an advance directive identifying a health care proxy for them we have covered all the bases. But this is not the case!

Advance Directives and living wills are not accepted by Emergency Medical Services (EMS) as legally valid forms. If a patient has a living will that states that they do not wish to be resuscitated but does not have an appropriately filled out state sponsored form that is co-signed by a physician, the Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) will attempt resuscitation. This is a little known fact to many patients and primary care physicians that can cause patients to be resuscitated even if their family has given instructions not to do so. Although this law is currently being evaluated for a constitutional challenge it is still in place.

A do not resuscitate document is a binding legal document that states resuscitation should not be attempted if a person suffers cardiac or respiratory arrest. A DNR does not affect any treatment other than that which would require intubation or CPR. Patients who are DNR can continue to get chemotherapy, antibiotics, dialysis, or any other appropriate treatment.

The DNR documentation is especially complicated since each state has its own specific approved form. The DNR form for residents of the State of Arizona is required to be printed on orange paper or it is not valid.  The Massachusetts form can be obtained from the Department of Emergency Services and can be downloaded from the site: www.mass.gov/Eeohhs2/docs/dph/emergency_services/comfort_care_bracelet.pdf  It provides for a bracelet to be applied to the patient’s wrist.

It is imperative that you contact your state health and human services department to determine what form is approved in your state. The form must be signed by the health care proxy ( sometimes called the health care agent) or a durable power of attorney and cosigned by a physician. It is recommended that the original DNR form be kept in safe place, and that copies be kept in places that will be readily available to EMS personnel

Do Your Parents Have a Durable Power of Attorney?

Estate planning is such an ominous term. Most of us try to avoid it as long as possible because it deals with our death and ultimate demise. I would rather we rename it “Transition Planning”. It is the planning we must do for our parents and ourselves to avoid legal delays and complications when the ownership and/or control of our assets shifts to another person or entity.

I have observed a number of situations where estate planning was not done properly. One that is still vivid in my mind involves one of my clients who was a retired physician. He was failing both physically and mentally when his wife decided to place him in a nursing home. She began making decisions regarding his finances, continuing to use their joint check book to pay the bills and make purchases, etc. Then without warning, she was contacted by the attorney of the Doctor’s first wife’s family stating that she had no authority to act in his behalf even though she was his second and current wife.

The family alleged that she was acting irresponsibly and making financial decisions that would result in the depletion of the Doctor’s assets so that nothing would be left for his  children. Unfortunately,she had no document that stated she had the right to act in his behalf. She was forced to go to Probate Court to prove that he was incompetent and become his conservator. (A conservator has the legal right to act on behalf of a mentally incompetent individual.)

She had to testify before a judge in probate court that her husband was incompetent—an event that proved very embarrassing for the whole family. The judge ruled that the Doctor could not handle his own affairs and his wife was named as his conservator. But the legal process took more than a month.

The whole mess could have been avoided if the Doctor had signed a very short three page document called a “Durable Power of Attorney” while he was still healthy. This document gives an individual the right to make financial decisions for you when you are no longer able to make decisions for yourself. A regular power of attorney only allows you to act in the person’s behalf if they are mentally competent. The “Durable” power works regardless of the individual’s mental state.