Helping Aging Parents: What is Important

agaveOctober: it does not feel like Fall yet but let’s see how the season develops. Hopefully we’ll get some rain. Last month I visited the di Rosa museum in Napa for the first time (, touring the surrounding grounds and outdoor sculpture gardens. It was very hot but the view was amazing and the giant sculptures were exciting to see up close, growing out of the land.

Many clients ask me how they can help their parents as they age. I know that it can be a complex balancing act. Often people are willing to give up some tasks but understandably don’t want to give up complete control of assets, accounts. Possibly a parent is comfortable delegating certain tasks he or she used to handle: balancing a checkbook or paying bills. Of course whoever takes over these duties must be trustworthy and accountable.

If it is time to completely turn over management of financial assets, most trusts have a mechanism to accomplish this: the current trustee (the parent in our example) either resigns or there is a procedure to follow in the trust to determine lack of capacity to manage trust assets. There should be a named successor trustee who is willing and able to take over the trusteeship. That can be a spouse or other trusted relative, a child, bank or private professional fiduciary. If your parent does not have a trust there should be a durable power of attorney for financial assets in place. Unfortunately sometimes banks are reluctant to accept durable powers of attorney that are not on their own bank forms. As a last resort a conservator can be appointed. This should only be considered if no other options are workable.

I also recommend talking to your parents about end of life wishes. This can be a difficult topic to bring up but if anything it is even more important than the discussion regarding management of financial assets. I highly recommend Dr. Atul Gawande’s 2014 book Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. In his view, the most important questions to consider before any major medical procedure are:

What are your biggest fears and concerns?

What goals are most important to you?

What trade-offs are you willing to make and what ones are you not?

He encourages patients, physicians and family members to have this discussion before major medical decisions are made.

Call me to make sure you have a plan in place for the future.