February 13, 2015
What if a sudden, debilitating illness, fraud or economic downturn affected your senior family member's retirement, estate or long-term care issues? Would you be prepared to take over?
If the answer is no, you're not alone. According to 2013 research (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/07/18/as-population-ages-more-americans-becoming-caregivers/) from the Pew Research Center, four in 10 U.S. adults are caring for a loved one with significant health issues.
Don't wait for a crisis to initiate this conversation. Starting early can help you plan and even safeguard your own career and retirement planning. Here are some suggestions for starting the conversation:
Identify the missing links. Find information gaps you need to fill to help your senior relative plan for retirement. If key financial information – investment and banking accounts, legal documents or doctors' contact information – is missing, list any and all unknowns to be researched and compiled.
Schedule a family financial meeting. Schedule a specific day and time and create an agenda that meets the needs of your senior relative. It is not always necessary to involve all direct family members in a preliminary discussion, but make sure that relevant individuals are aware of the meeting. After helping your senior relative assess his or her financial situation, make sure to identify next steps and responsibilities.
Locate important financial documents. Ask your senior relative to show you where his or her key documents and accounts are, such as retirement and pension information, checkbooks, investment statements, insurance policies and legal and estate data. Find out where incoming bills are kept in case you have to step in and help manage monthly bills.
Consider seeking financial counseling. Any number of reasons, from illness to fraud, may explain losing control of personal finances. If your relative has been working with a qualified financial or tax advisor, the family team should consider meeting with him or her if a need arises. If outside tax, financial or legal help is needed, the team and your senior relative should discuss who those professionals should be, what their fees are and what you expect them to do.
Make and agree on a plan. After all the information gathering and discussion is complete, make a plan – in writing, if possible – to review the senior's wishes, set an action plan and assign responsibilities as necessary. As mentioned above, you should review this plan every year. And if problems emerge in any topic area from retirement to health issues, you'll find guidance throughout the Practical Money Skills for Life website. (http://www.practicalmoneyskills.com/personalfinance/)
Bottom line: Asking older relatives about retirement, estate and long-term care preparations can be an uncomfortable conversation. Making a plan and initiating early conversations to involve the right people can ease the financial strain and stress on everyone involved.
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