Ask the Expert: Fewer Secrets Now, Fewer Headaches Later

Crisis Planning for Aging Parents Can Involve Breaking Down Some of the Parent/Child Boundaries

How well do I really know my parents? I have asked myself this question a lot lately. My dad was hospitalized recently, and I was contacted by a neighbor to help make some decisions about the house and his mail while he was in the hospital. I found that I really didn’t know some of the basic things about his life, like how the bills are paid, who his doctors are and where the spare key is kept. It is not because I don’t care, but because I have never wanted to intrude in his personal life. Now that we are dealing with health care issues, how can I better prepare to help him?

This is such an important question and one that most adult children to do not think about until something triggers the need, like a hospitalization. Often parents have maintained parental boundaries with adult children and not wanted to burden them with their own lives. The fact is, we are all aging and at any time could have a crisis that requires someone else to step in and help. Planning ahead and documenting information regarding the day to day operations of our life is not only important, but really helpful to those who might be stepping in.

A good starting point is to ask if your parents have designated someone to act on their behalf through advanced directives, like power of attorney documents. These are important and if a specific person is named, they will want to have a clear idea of what planning has been done and will want their parents’ wishes documented. Aside from having legal affairs in order, there are some good things to know. If your parents are not comfortable disclosing certain information, you can provide them with a list of questions or planning guide that can be accessed by the family only when needed.

Information can be obtained at different levels. There are the high-level questions, such as:

1. What setting do you prefer to live in as you age? Home? A retirement community?

2. What type of care would you want if something were to happen?

3. Have you done any end of life planning? Estate planning? Funeral planning?

4. What do I need to know if you end up in the hospital?

5. How do you see yourself paying for care if it is needed? Insurance? Long-term care? Savings?

6. Who would you want to care for you if you could not live alone?

Then there are much more detailed questions that provide information you would need if you were stepping in to assist with daily tasks.

1. How do you currently manage bills? Online? Checks? Auto-pay?

2. What financial accounts do you maintain? Is one primary? Do you have a contact at the bank?

3. Where do you keep important documents? File cabinet? Safe? How would I access them?

4. Who are your professional providers? Attorney? Accountant? Financial advisors?

5. Who are your medical providers? Pharmacy?

6. Is there a spare key to your home? Safe deposit box? Who has access?

7. Is there a pet at home that we need to plan for? Veterinarian?

8. What insurance policies do you carry? Who could access them? Where are cards kept?

9. Where is a current medication list kept? Medication bottles?

10. Do you write down passwords? A book of contacts? Important information?

11. Are there local friends or neighbors that should be called if something happens?

12. Do you have any allergies that we should document?

Once you open the door for communication, it becomes easier. You want to establish a safe dialogue in a confidential environment. There are a variety of planning guides available online that can be ordered or printed and provided to your parents or filled out with them. Ultimately, if your parents have not done any planning for this stage of life, it is time. If they have put thought into what is important and what they would want or don’t want, it is important that this information be communicated to the correct people so that those wishes can be honored. Lastly, don’t worry if you don’t have all the answers – just showing up is a step in the right direction. If your dad sees you there, he knows you care. The rest can be figured out!


Readers may send questions to Amy Natt, an Aging Life Care ProfessionalTM, certified senior advisor and CEO of Aging Outreach Services. She can be reached at
amyn@agingoutreachservices.com .