How to Talk to Parents about Getting their Affairs in Order

How to Talk to Parents about Getting their Affairs in Order


As your parents age, you want to be sure that you can spend as much quality time with them as possible. You also want to make sure that you are not so overwhelmed with financial and legal matters that you are too distracted to enjoy this precious time.

Unfortunately, many adults find themselves blindsided by the red tape involved in caring for their parents. In many cases, they incorrectly assume that their parents have all of their affairs in order and everything has been taken care of in advance.

There are a number of reasons why an aging parent or other relative fails to get their affairs in order. Many people simply don’t want to accept the fact that they may become incapacitated someday.

Planning for end-of-life issues means that they must accept this fact. They also may be under the mistaken belief that if they don’t have a great deal of money, they don’t need to make any plans for the future.

If you have not talked with your parents about the importance of putting their affairs in order, the time to do it is now. While it can be a difficult conversation, it is a necessary one.

One way to make the conversation go as smoothly as possible is to approach it with the right attitude. This means not simply telling your parents what is best for them. Instead, ask your parents what they believe is in their best interests and if they feel prepared for the future.

Gaining the legal authority to take care of your parents should they become unable to do it themselves is perhaps the most crucial step in this process. What follows are the legal documents you must obtain before this can happen:

  1. Durable power of attorney. This document grants you the authority to manage your parents’ finances if they are unable or unwilling to do so. An estate-planning lawyer can help with this form and will ensure that it conforms to state law and is properly executed.
  2. Living will. A living will allows a person to state their wishes for end-of-life medical care if they are unable to communicate these wishes.
  3. Medical release. Doctors and other medical professionals are unable to share a patient’s medical records without that patient’s permission. A medical release form will allow these health professionals to share medical records and other medical information concerning your loved ones with you. Keep in mind that you will need a release form for every doctor or specialist your parent sees. You also will need to obtain one from the hospital.
  4. Power of attorney for health care. Also referred to as a health care proxy, this document gives you the power to make medical decisions on a parent’s behalf if he or she is unable. As a health care proxy for your parent, you may be called upon to authorize things like placing a parent on life support or grant consent for surgery.

If you have brothers and sisters, it is important that even if they do not have power of attorney, they are included—as much as possible—in all conversations involving your parents’ affairs. This will help to prevent any miscommunication or hard feelings down the road. It also will help to avoid any challenges to your authority to act in your parents’ best interest.