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What do my children need to know about my financial wishes?

Utah State University Extension Family Resource Management Specialist

Even the closest of families can feel uncomfortable talking about parents' money, the need for future caregiving and parents' last wishes. As a result, the topic is avoided, postponed or left without being discussed, often until there is an emergency. Then children become frantic looking for the financial and legal documents needed to handle parents' financial affairs and last wishes.

Consider the following information.

*Being reticent to bring up this important discussion is more common among older children than their parents. In a recent insurance company survey, 76 percent of elderly parents said they would be very comfortable talking to their children about the financial issues they will face as they age. However, only 45 percent of adult children said they would be comfortable having this type of conversation. And when parents want to address the topic, their childrens' responses are usually prefaced with "Nothing's going to happen to you," or flat-out, "I don't want to talk about it."

*As difficult as it is, this discussion needs to take place to avoid possible devastating consequences for family members. Someone, whether it is you or a family advisor, should have a list of your parents' financial information, including bank and credit union account numbers, insurance policies (health, life, auto, long-term care), retirement account information, deeds to real estate, powers of attorney, contact information for attorneys and doctors and a list of assets and debts. It is important to know the location of birth certificates, marriage licenses, divorce papers, military records, wills, Social Security and Medicare cards and safe deposit boxes.

It is also important to be able to locate forms for beneficiary designations on savings accounts, investments, IRAs, 401(k) plans and company pensions. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) posts a list entitled "Valuable Documents at Your Fingertips" on its Web site at, under "Family, Home and Legal." This list can help elders and their children learn how to pull this information together.

*When parents become incapacitated, their children need the legal authority to write checks on parents' accounts to pay bills, file taxes and insurance claims and authorize medical treatments. A "durable power of attorney" authorizes children to make financial transactions on their parents' behalf. A "health care power of attorney" lets children make medical decisions when their parents become incapacitated. A "living will" states what medical treatments and life-sustaining procedures parents want and don't want.

*If you haven't already, discuss these issues soon while parents are still healthy. Don't become discouraged if one side or the other doesn't want to engage in the discussion right away. The topic is an emotional one. But if you make your goals clear and acknowledge that the discussion is difficult, both parents and children can benefit from a candid conversation that will allow parents' wishes to be carried out.

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