Do You Know Where Your Parents’ Important Documents Are?
It may feel uncomfortable, but have you asked them about their Estate Plans? It’s a topic most of us don’t want to broach with our parents but it’s one that’s necessary to address.
Knowing where their important documents and valuables are located in the event of an unexpected health crisis will give you, and your parents, peace of mind – especially if a parent is hospitalized and is unable to tell you where things are.
So, before anything happens, it’s a good idea to talk to your ageing parents about what you may need to get one day; you may also want to consider letting your own children know where your key information is located as well. You might be surprised at the fruitful discussion that comes out of this information-sharing session. If you need help, we have created the SMARTAccessKit with a comprehensive list of discussion points that may help you with the information exchange and help you feel that you are not probing too fast and too deep. Particularly, if there are siblings that have not been involved in the sharing.
You and your siblings should ask your parents for the locations of the following important documents:
1. Medical Records & Physician Contact Information
If your parents find themselves in an emergency medical situation, doctors will want to know if they have any existing conditions, previous surgeries, and any medications they’re currently on. If they have a spouse, that person probably knows the answers but it’s still a good idea for someone else (i.e., you or your siblings) to know just in case both of your parents are unwell or injured.
2. Health Insurance and Life Insurance Policy Information
It’s important to know where your parents keep their health and life insurance info, including any extras. You’ll also need to know where those cards are, and you should ask to see their life insurance policies to double-check their premiums are up to date.
3. Powers of Attorney for Personal Care and Property
These are legal documents that are enforceable prior to death, and usually include your parents’ wishes in the event of a major medical emergency. For example, they may have a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order or a health care power of attorney (POA) which differs from a general power of attorney for property. A POA allows a person to make decisions on behalf of another regarding his or her healthcare or medical treatment – this becomes active when a person is unable to make those decisions on their own or can’t communicate what they want. That’s why it’s important to talk to your parents about what they want to do if they find themselves in a situation where they’re no longer able to speak for themselves. It can even help if they are alive and competent but in a care situation that requires you to go to the records department to get copies of information to share with caregivers and physicians. It will also allow you to pay bills for their home while in a caregiving situation.
4. Banking information
This is a touchy subject but if a parent is suddenly out of commission, bills still must be paid so find out where your parent’s bank is and get their account numbers, online access codes and PINs. It’s also important to learn how your parents pay their bills. Do they pay online, by check or direct debit? Ask them if they’ll add your name or one of your siblings to their bank accounts so someone else can access the account to make payments and manage it. Having a Power of Attorney for Property is one of the best ways to be able to support them should you need to access their bank accounts.
5. Investment & Financial Advisor Information
This is information that cannot be ignored. Find out not only the location of your parents’ investments but also the name and contact information of their advisors. You’ll also need to know what fees, required distributions and withdrawal penalties are involved. This is not limited to just the investment advisor; rather you may need accountant and bookkeeper information as well
6. Property Deeds and Titles
Your dad may have kept the deeds and titles to your parent’s property in a box somewhere when you were a kid, but do you know where those documents are now? Find out where the deeds to houses and land are as well as titles to their cars and/or recreational vehicles. You may need them to liquidate their assets should a health crisis or sudden move to a care facility occurs. They are also critical if your parents have recreational properties which have special access passes to gain entry, so keeping up to date on passwords and information on Property Manager information is important particularly if there is a crisis.
7. Safety Deposit Box
Do you know if your parents have one? If yes, find out where they keep it and the keys and ask them what steps need to be taken to access the box particularly if it is located at a bank. They may need to put your name on file so check with them and their bank. It might be worth a visit together to meet the key individual in charge and to have your name on accounts.
8. Hidden Valuables
It’s important to know if, and where your parents have hidden things. If they don’t want to tell you while they’re still alive, ask them to make a list and keep it with their Wills. It might also be a good idea to have a Secondary Will for these hidden gems which will help you avoid having to pay Probate Fees on items that can include artwork, jewellery, coin collections and even NHL Hockey Tickets!
9. Wills, Birth Certificates, Marriage Licenses Etc.
Asking your living parent about their Will may seem morbid and highly uncomfortable for everyone but dying without a Will can be a costly affair and could start family infighting. It’s important to know if their Wills are up to date. You’ll also need to know where their birth certificates and marriage license are located. To learn more check out www.smartwills.ca on the list of items that are important to have on hand should you need to visit a lawyer about your parent’s Estate (i.e. this does not mean you are extremely wealthy, it is an Estate if you own a home and perhaps a vacation property).
10. End-Of-Life Decisions
Make Sure Everyone Knows What You Want
A conversation about how you want to live out your later years or the time you have left may start with your spouse or partner, but it should also include all your children. “You want multiple people to know and have a picture of what is important to you and what your values are.” These discussions are a “gift” to your family. “You’re relieving them of the burden of indecision. You never want your children or partner or other family members wondering if they honoured your wishes or questioning if they made the right decision.” You also want to avoid family squabbles and running up a bill with a lawyer or family counsellor as you try to resolve issues when you may be in an emotionally challenged state.
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This material is for general information and educational purposes only. Information is based on data gathered from what we believe are reliable sources. It is not guaranteed as to accuracy, does not purport to be complete and is not intended to be used as a primary basis for investment decisions.