Sunday, December 2, 2007

Nine Questions to Ask Your Parents

Estate planning, retirement planning, and long-term care planning (a.k.a. “ my life") are very, very touchy discussion subjects. Getting the information needed to properly plan is not easy - even (especially?) for families. Talk about trying to get someones attention! But the sooner we "bite the bullet" and have a serious family sit-down, the better off you will be. Eventually parents and kids must talk about the inevitable.

A way to "break the ice" and make it easier is to start with a Checklists. Children, you don't want to ask and your parents don't want you to ask. But it's time you put get some answers. Here are nine questions you need to ask your parents:

1. "What types of insurance do you have?" You need to find out what medical coverage, long- term care coverage, and life insurance that your parents have with the name of each provider. Contract numbers would be a huge help.

2, "How much money (cash and investments) do you have?" (I’d love to be around to see the look in their eyes when you ask THAT one).

3. "Do you think you will need financial support in the future?" Let's face it, the answer will probably be "no, we'll be OK", so, you may have to delve deeper into that.

4. "Do you have a complete list of all your accounts, passwords, financial institutions, and phone numbers for all advisers?" And, of course...Where is that list?

5. "Where are your documents (will, trust, advance directives, insurance policies, account statements) kept?" Hopefully with the above list.

6. “Are your wills and advance directives up to date?" As for the wills, you are looking for such issues as deceased persons nominated to be Personal Representative, provisions for young children who are now grown up adults, a change in desired beneficiaries or method of distributionto them.

Advance Directives (Living Will, Health Care Surrogate Designation, Durable Power of Attorney) should be updated every several years just so they are "fresh". It's not really a legal requirement, but it makes doctors and bankers happy.

8. "Are the beneficiaries on your insurance policies, qualified plans and annuities the way you want them?" This is a critical question to help reduce or eliminate the need for Probate.

9. "Do your other investments (bank accounts, savings accounts, CDs, mutual funds) have the proper Joint Tenancy or Payable on Death provision with the remainderman that you want?" This is the other critical question to help reduce or eliminate the need for Probate to let things pass as seamlessly as possible.

This is vital information that can help smooth the path in the future, in the case of serious health issues or the death of a loved one. Again this week, I had a call from a client who could not find "anything" since a parent died a short time ago. This can result in more than frustration and confusion. It can mean additional time and legal costs to settle the estate.

Call me. I have some pretty good checklists I would be happy to give you.

These are not the easiest questions to ask or to answer. However, sometimes you just have to do what you have to do. But I still want to see the look in their eyes when you ask much money they have.

- Tom Willoughby