parents estate

How do you take over your elderly parents’ estate?

Financial independence is a right most of us have enjoyed for our entire adult lives. However, just as we inevitably grow older, at a certain point many of us experience corresponding cognitive decline as well. We want to help our parents when we see them become vulnerable to identity theft and possible mismanagement of their money, but we do not want them to feel threatened or belittled as adults.

So how do you offer your parents assistance with their financial matters gracefully? We have gathered the top tips from our legal resource network this week. Below are 5 different perspectives from our network:

1) CONSULT THE ENTIRE FAMILY

Before moving forward and helping your parents with their financial affairs, it is important to make sure the entire family is on board. The last thing any family needs is a fight about money. Siblings need to be on the same team. Attorney Arthur L. (Tim) Clements III of Nicola, Gudbranson & Cooper, LLC explains:

“The tricky issue is what to do if you have siblings. I would urge transparency with your siblings while considering the practicalities — such as who lives near your parents and is in the best position to help them with medical issues, financial issues, etc., as opposed to living out of town.”

It is in everyone’s best interest to make certain that all family members are comfortable with the plan, and know what is going on. A shared burden is easier to carry.

2) STRESS THE BENEFITS OF YOUR HELP

Parents should feel that you are helping them because of the vast amount of work that goes into managing their finances–not because you are interested in benefiting financially on your end. Attorney Michele Colucci of MyLawsuit.com expands:

“Explain that the added security of having a second pair of eyes ensures there isn’t any identity theft or mistakes being made. No one can look at every statement the moment it arrives, so two sets of eyes are better than one to spot mistakes. Once dual copies are in place, start small conversations about the investments.”

3) ONLINE MONITORING IS LESS INVASIVE

Since most of our elderly parents do not pay their bills and manage their money online, they typically feel less threatened when their children ease into helping them through online financial monitoring. Bard Malovany of Sagemark Counseling gives us a better idea:

“With so much being digitally accessible, it’s now easy for a child to access a parent’s financial accounts via the internet, which allows them to monitor them for unusual activity, or for online bill-paying. It’s also a less intrusive first step to helping one’s parents with their finances: rather than taking over the finances altogether, it allows visibility while the parent continues to manage the finances him/herself.”

Your parents may be more willing to accept your help if it’s with a technology they don’t understand.

4) ORGANIZE, ORGANIZE, ORGANIZE

Estate planning is not a task that easily finds its way into most of our daily lives. We are more concerned with the present, so the first step to helping your parents get their estate in order is to get things organized. Attorney Ramsey A. Bahrawy of Bahrawy Law Office shares his tips:

“Remember no one wakes up one morning saying, ‘today I need to create my estate plan.’ As regards disorganized documents, offer to help your parents to organize. Offer to do research online in order to find a safe, secure and user-friendly software product to organize documents. If your parents aren’t willing to work with software, create a binder to organize their documents, medication lists and home inventory.”

Bottom line: make sure your parents’ finances are organized in a way they are comfortable with, keeping in mind the ultimate goal of no surprises down the line.

5) BOTTOM LINE: HIRE AN ATTORNEY

We must be careful about approaching parents about their estates. We need to make it clear that we are only trying to help and be a second set of eyes. Then it becomes pertinent to organize their important documents and financial system. But after those steps are taken, it is best to hire an attorney. They can help make a real plan for the estate, draw up wills, and authorize a power of attorney. Attorney Timothy S. McCausland of Orange Country Trust Company gives us the bottom line:

“Every state has different laws with respect to the execution of wills, power of attorney forms and other estate documents. It is ALWAYS best to hire a competent attorney to help you and your parents get through the exercise of estate planning.”

When in doubt, hire a professional.