Plan Now to Care for Aging Parents Later


My wife and I have spent the last quarter of a century caring for our kids. We’ve done our best to equip them with all they need to be happy, successful and productive. It won’t be too long — but I hope not too soon! — before they are called into action to look out for us. Like it or not, that’s just the way it is. Heck, we are experiencing this shift in roles with our own parents. It may not be fun, or even comfortable, but it’s a reality and you need to be ready.

A significant chunk of that readiness begins with some frank conversations. If you’re not sure where to kick things off, try these six questions to facilitate important discussions with your aging parents.

  1. Have you formalized a “what-if” game plan? I wrote “what-if,” but “when” is a more accurate characterization. Your parents probably have at least an idea of what they would like to see happen if they are incapacitated or pass away, but a mere idea isn’t enough. To make things happen according to their wishes, they need to draft or update a suite of legal documents that may include wills, trusts, powers of attorney (both medical and financial) and living wills. A qualified estate-planning attorney can help them build the plan.
  2. Who is doing what? Whether they are naming an agent to make decisions, selecting an executor or naming a successor trustee, everyone should be on the same page. The result of all parties understanding roles and responsibilities: efficiency and family harmony.
  3. Does your plan need to be dusted off? Your parents may have answered yes to question one, but if they drafted their documents decades ago, it could be time for a refresh. Tax laws have changed dramatically, and it could also make sense to re-establish their intent with respect to powers of attorney. A financial institution may be less likely to recognize a 25-year-old power of attorney than one drawn up a couple of years ago. As you take another look at these important documents, be sure all beneficiary arrangements reflect your parents’ current wishes and are synchronized with the other means by which their assets will be distributed.
  4. What type of insurance do you have? I happen to know my mom has a long-term care policy, but only because I sold it to her! Be sure you have a firm grasp of your folks’ life, long-term care and health insurance policies. A survey of their insurance could identify gaps or unnecessary coverage and influence care or lifestyle decisions. It could be that policies purchased decades ago don’t make sense today — or that new ones should be considered. 
  5. Who do we need to contact? If your parents already have a letter of instruction documenting their key contacts (attorneys, accountants, etc.); providers (banks, brokerages, insurance companies, etc.); and social media account details in a single document or notebook, that’s fantastic. If not, ask them to write one. Are there special programs or services they’re eligible for? Perhaps, for example, they should go through the VA pre-need burial eligibility process. As USAA members, you, the children, could take advantage of services offered through the Survivor Relations team. Dig into the details.
  6. How should we handle things when you’re gone? This is really an open-ended topic, but ground you can cover might include your parents’ desire on a wide range of topics including preferred burial location, cremation, type of service, and obituary details.

If the thought of diving into these questions doesn’t make you a bit uncomfortable, you’re probably the exception. However, being a good parent isn’t always easy, and when the tables turn, that truth remains the same.

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