Donna is a freelance writer who uses her personal experiences to guide others through life's changes.
I don't think my story is unusual. As an adult, I visited my parents regularly, and I spoke to them on the phone a couple times a week. I thought I knew about the things going on in their daily lives. If they needed any assistance, I helped them. But I didn't ask specific questions about their health or financial situation unless they brought it up. I felt like it wasn't any of my business unless they made it my business and I didn't want to pry.
Then my father died in February of 2022. After his passing, I found myself helping my mother understand their insurance and banking. I accompanied my mother to her medical appointments and helped her make the decisions she used to make with my Dad.
It's been a steep learning experience for me and I wished I had known more about my parents' medical and financial situation before my father's death. I know it can be difficult to discuss certain topics with your parents. But learn from my mistake - as your parents age and their needs change, it is important to have an understanding of your parents medical, personal, and financial circumstances.
From my experience, I've compiled ten topics that you should discuss with your parents, along with some suggestions about how to start these conversations with your family. I hope this information will help you step in and assist your parents if the need arises.
How to Start These Conversations
These conversations are going to be easier in some families than others. I found it helpful to start slowly, be open, and handle each topic separately. It might be easiest to start with some simple health questions, then move on to other topics once the paths of communications are opened. You can begin your health discussion with this list of questions, moving through them as needed:
- How are they feeling?
- Have they seen a doctor recently?
- When was their last physical or appointment?
- How did this appointment go?
- Were there any changes to their health? Do they have any concerns after the appointment?
- Are they on any medications? Have they kept up with their vaccinations?
These questions can lead to creating the medication list and the medical history discussed below. From there, you can ask about their insurances, and so on. Try to discuss all these topics. If your parents are resistant to discussing a topic, move on to another and try to revisit problem topics later.
Probably most important on this list of topics is to know the medications that your parent(s) are taking and why. Create a spreadsheet of all medications, both prescription and over the counter (including vitamins), that they take on a regular basis. Be sure to include any recent vaccinations. You should create a separate sheet for each parent. Include on your spreadsheet:
- Name of medication
- Name of prescribing physician
- Date when medication was first prescribed
- Reason for medication, if needed
Most of this information should be on the prescription container. Your parent should take this list with them when meeting with their doctors and review it regularly. You should also keep a copy in your files and keep it updated with any changes to their care. Pay attention to any news articles or recalls of the medications that your parents are taking.
2. Medical History
Similar to the medication list, you should also create a list of your parents' medical history and care. This list can be on the same document as the medicine spreadsheet so all the information is in one place. Include on the list:
- Any out patient procedures and hospital stays for your parent
- The dates of these incidents
- Any followup that was provided, like referrals, physical therapy, rehab, and in home nursing
Both the medication list and medical history list are useful documents to have for each member of your family, not just your parents. My husband created a document when meeting with a health specialist that outline the history of his issue and the previous therapy he had been prescribed. This information helped his specialist understand what my husband had already tried and create a new treatment program for moving forward.
3. Health Care Proxy or Medical Power of Attorney
Your parents should appoint someone as their health care proxy or medical power of attorney. This role allows someone else to speak with medical professional on their behalf and make medical decisions for them if they are incapacitated and can't make the decisions for themselves. You can find forms and checklists online for discussing the medical choices your parents want made for them. You can also find forms online to create a health care proxy or you can use a lawyer to write this document.
4. Medical Insurance
As your parents get older, they may have trouble managing their medical insurance. You should ask:
- If they have Medicare and/or Medicaid?
- If so, which parts?
- Do they have supplemental insurance?
- How much are they paying for their supplemental insurance?
Look over the statements from the insurance companies with your parents. Make sure they understand the statements and are not being charged for any inaccurate services.
After my father's death, my mother received a slew of medical bills. In looking at them, some had not been sent through Medicare or their insurance. I quickly had to learn what type of coverage they had and what should be covered before my mother paid these bills.
5. Property Deeds and Insurance
Make sure you know where the deeds and copies of the insurance are for all your parents' homes, property, cars and other vehicles. Where applicable, make sure these documents are in both your parents' names or consider having your name added to them. In the case of your parent's death, transferring these properties (including vehicles) will be easier if there is already another name on the deed and insurance.
6. Will and Power of Attorney
You should strongly encourage your parents to make a will and appoint someone to serve as durable power of attorney for them. A complete will describes how your parent wants their assets handled after their death. This can be a difficult conversation to have, but a will can make sure that your parents' final wishes are carried out. Without a will, their assets will be distributed by a probate court.
A durable power of attorney allows the appointed person to handle legal and financial matters for your parent as needed. This authority can include managing property, handling bills and taxes, and applying for government benefits.
You may want to have a further discussion about putting your parents' assets into a trust. A lawyer can help with this decision.
7. Funeral Planning
Funeral and other final arrangements seem to be a discussion that a lot of parents want to avoid, but planning ahead can make a very difficult time easier on the family. Encourage your parents to meet with a funeral home or mortuary to make all their arrangements. If your parent is not amenable to this, ask them to at least discuss their final wishes with you. Topics and details you should discuss include:
- Who would they like to handle their final arrangements?
- Do they have a way to pay for their arrangements?
- What type of final preparations would they like for their body?
- What type of service, if any, would they like? Who would they like to attend?
- If they want a burial, do they already have a burial plot?
- Do they want an obituary? If so, do they have an outline of the information they want included?
8. Financials, Retirement Accounts, and Life Insurance
Similar to the medical information, create a spreadsheet or list that includes all your parents' bank accounts, retirement accounts, and life insurance policies. This spreadsheet should include:
- the company or bank where the account is held
- the account number
- a phone number to call for information about the account
- any notes about beneficiaries or payments or pay outs
While looking at these documents, encourage your parents to put a second name on all their bank accounts and make sure their beneficiaries are updated on all their retirement accounts and life insurance policies.
9. Credit Cards and Utilities
Find out how many and what type of credit cards your parents have. Go over their card statements with them to make sure they are checking their charges each month. See how they are paying the charges and if they understand the interest on their accounts.
Similarly, ask what utilities your parents have (including cellphone). Ask which of these utilities are direct billed to their credit card. Also, make sure there is a second name on all their utility accounts in case someone else needs to discuss the account.
10. Online and Phone Scams
Keep updated on any scams that are circulating and make sure your parents are aware of them. Be sure that your parents are careful with their personal, medical, and financial information when they are online or answering the phone. Suggest to them how they can respond for requests for personal information to protect themselves.
You can find information about scams online. Your local senior center or police also offer resources about avoiding scams.
Discussing these topics with your parents can allow you to assist them as they get older, and avoid issues if something should happen to them. However, it's fine if you parent doesn't want to talk about some of these topics. Try to discuss another topic from the list, and hopefully you can revisit the other topics later. Remember that you are trying to help your parents and you can only offer the help that they will accept.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Donna Herron