Convincing your parents that they need to share their personal and financial information with you can be challenging. But sharing information is best for everyone in the family.
From your elder’s perspective, they have done things the same way with the same philosophy for decades, and it has always worked out well. It is highly likely that their first response to your request is “Why should I do that?”
Sometime you have to be blunt and tell them “Here is why: you are getting older. Your abilities are decreasing. You will need help managing your affairs. If things don’t change, then your untold secrets will die with you.”
You, the adult child, see the future, and you should be worried. One daughter described the problem perfectly: “My brothers and I are dumbfounded by the precarious situation our parents are placing us in. The conversations are tense. They have waited so long to deal with any of this, and now that life and death events are looming closer they want to think about it even less.” She noted that if her parents would only assemble the information, it would make it so much easier for their children.
So encourage your parents to embrace the inevitable. Buy them a multi-tab file folder and tell them they need to put a copy of these documents in it: their will (with a note regarding location of the original) and any codicils, powers of attorney, trust, directive to physician (living will), insurance and annuity policies (or declaration page), burial instructions (with funeral contract, plot or mausoleum deed, clergy contact, preferred mortuary), organ donor instructions, obituary draft and picture, bank account information (copy of account card preferable), charitable donation information, safety deposit box number and location (with key), investment account information, pension information, debt information (for debts they owe and debts that are owed to them), promissory notes, appraisals, judgments, corporate or partnership records for any privately held businesses, Medicare card, health insurance policies, deeds, contracts, birth certificate, marital agreement, divorce decree, adoption papers, marriage license, death certificate of deceased spouse, social security card, military discharge papers, recent tax return, a statement for each existing credit card (and copy of card benefits), any documents on which they are a fiduciary, pending lawsuits, lists and instructions.
Then ask them to make lists (or sit down and let them dictate the information to you): Logins and passwords for on-line accounts; significant assets and their location; contact information for friends, beneficiaries, religious entity, advisors (lawyer, CPA, broker, clergy, financial planner, insurance agent), doctors, family; medications and diagnoses/conditions; Assets that are really valuable (the old rug in the living room is 18th century Persian).
Then ask them about their instructions: what to do with the pets and plants; who to contact if they fall ill or die; the location of the hidden safes in the house and where to find the combinations; how to dispose of hard-to-sell assets like your stamp collection and reconditioned motorcycle; anticipated problems and how they would like them handled.
If they are really savvy, ask them to scan everything. If that is a bit too challenging, then you scan it for them.
What do you tell your parents to do with this information? Tell them to put it somewhere safe, and tell you, your siblings, and their trusted friends where it is. If family relationships are strong, then ask them to give a thumb-drive of the scanned information to you, their other children, siblings, the agents on their powers of attorney, and their proposed executor.
You will be glad you did.
*We are honored to have guest blogger, Virginia Hammerle, the founder of Hammerle Finley Law Firm. Ms. Hammerle writes a weekly column in the Senior section of The Dallas Morning News. Ms. Hammerle’s practice includes estate planning, probate, guardianship, business law and litigation. She has a special emphasis on elder law and is a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. Ms. Hammerle has been voted SuperLawyer for Business Litigation every year since 2012. Visit her website and blog at http://www.hammerle.com