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Good Investment: Discussing Finances With Elderly Parents

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RALEIGH — For most of us, our financial matters are private. But as baby boomers help their parents into old age, financial issues must be discussed. It can be a difficult step, but there are ways to avoid the turmoil.

One way to initiate the discussion is to use a little reverse psychology -- ask your parents for their advice about your financial matters.

Begin the dialogue earlier in life. Do not wait until your parents are ill to discuss financial issues.

"If you're concerned that your parents are putting money in high-risk stocks, ask them about it," said elder care consultant Martha Grove Hipskind. "If at age 63 they want to know about day trading, you may want to say, 'Let's think this through.'"

Once the discussion begins, here are some questions to ask:
  • Do they have a will? If so, where is it located?
  • Have they granted someone a durable power of attorney? If so, who has the power, and where is the document located?
  • Have they written a power of attorney for health care? If so, who has the power, and where is the document located?
  • Do they have a safe deposit box? Where is the box located and where is the key? Where is the list of contents?
  • What is the location of essential personal papers -- birth and marriage certificates, dissolution-of-marriage documents, Social Security and military service records?
  • Where are life, health and property insurance policies kept?
  • Have they made a list of investments (savings accounts, certificates of deposit, stocks and bonds, etc.)? What are the mailing addresses of the institutions that have the investments?
  • Have they made a list of the personal and real property that you own? Where is the list located?
  • Who are their financial advisors? What are their names and addresses?
  • Have they developed a letter of last instruction? If so, where is it located?
  • If there is a retirement program, is there a death benefit for the survivors? If so, whom should the survivors contact?Do not be surprised if your parents are not anxious to talk about these delicate subjects. Be prepared also for answers you may not want to hear.
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