Important Questions to Ask Aging Parents
As individuals start to thrive professionally and raise a growing family, they are often faced with the prospect of their parents’ mortality, and the accompanying concerns of what will happen once death occurs. Starting a conversation about end-of-life questions is not easy, and aging parents may be reluctant to discuss their estate plans, but these are critical matters that should not be ignored or left until the last minute. Before walking into such a discussion, it is helpful to have a list questions to ask, including whether any estate planning documents exist, which should then be reviewed. Gathering this information in advance of death or serious illness will make the transition of authority from the parent to the designated party, usually a spouse or child, easier and clearer. It will also reduce the likelihood of disagreement among surviving family members on how to proceed, which can quickly lead to contentious litigation and a breakdown of family relationships.
Knowing the existence and location of estate planning and asset protection documents is necessary to ensuring their instructions are implemented as soon as possible to avoid potentially messy legal complications later. Documents such as wills, trust instruments and life insurance policies form the basis of most estate plans, but are not useful if no one knows where they are and how to access them. If possible, at least try to ascertain who the executor of the estate will be so that individual can take over the parent’s affairs right away. Ideally, learn who the beneficiaries are in wills and life insurance policies, and how property will be distributed. Having this information ahead of time will facilitate settling the estate sooner and with less hassle.
While one’s parents may enjoy good health for a long period of time, at some point, they will need medical care, and may be unable to make healthcare decisions on their own due to lack of consciousness or competency. Florida allows residents to designate health care surrogates, which are given the authority to make medical decisions and receive medical information when the designator becomes incapacitated or as stipulated in the surrogate document. This authority typically remains in place until capacity is restored, or the person dies. Having one person as the go-to contact for medical decisions streamlines the treatment process by eliminating the ability of family members to issue conflicting orders to doctors.
Location of Assets
Knowing where estate documents are located is great, but equally important is knowing the physical location of the assets mentioned within them. Information related to bank account numbers, safe combinations, street addresses and safe deposit boxes should be recorded and regularly reviewed to ensure the information is up-to-date. Especially important in today’s age is knowing how to access online accounts. Figuring out where a parent has online accounts, and obtaining log-in information is important to securing and collecting assets after death. Florida recently enacted a law that allows individuals to direct companies to release electronic content to designated persons, or to name someone in a will or trust. This person has the authority to manage the property contained within the accounts, which may be granted during the parent’s life or after death.
Finally, it is important to learn if the parent worked with any professional advisors, such as attorneys or accountants, to sort his/her affairs. Having the names and contact information of these advisors will assist with locating important documents and getting necessary and satisfactory advice on various legal and financial issues.
Talk to an Estate Plan Attorney
Discussing estate planning issues with parents is often awkward and uncomfortable, but necessary. If you have questions about an existing estate plan, or need to set one up, talk to an estate plan attorney about the arrangement that is best for you. The attorneys at the Tampa law firm of Bubley & Bubley, P.A. will take whatever time is needed to addresses your needs and wishes. Contact us for a free consultation.