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Editorial: Five tough questions to ask aging parents

 This holiday season set aside a few minutes to talk about something that too many families shy away from talking about until it’s too late — the financial well-being and long-term care wishes of aging parents.  The Minnesota Department of Commerce notes that while this may be an uncomfortable topic, it’s important that adult children have these discussions ahead of time to prevent potential problems and misunderstandings down the road.  

To get the conversation started, the commerce department suggested these opening questions:  1. Do you have any serious health issues?  Openly discuss with your parents any chronic illnesses or conditions that require recurring treatment. Request a list of medications and doctors’ contact information. If a parent has a history of prolonged physical illness or disability, you may want to research long-term care options.  2. What is your financial situation?  If an elderly parent’s health suddenly takes a negative turn, out-of-pocket expenses can add up quickly. Discuss all sources of income and insurance coverage to determine how and if your parent might cover unanticipated medical treatment. If your parents agree, familiarize yourself with their insurance coverage and financial assets such as savings, pension plans, stocks, IRAs and 401K plans. Income, assets and insurance affect Medicaid eligibility and Medicare options.  3. Where would you prefer to live if you could no longer care for yourself?  Is your parent comfortable with the prospect of living in a nursing home, or does he or she have plans to move in with a family member or friend should special care be required? Be open and direct about your ability to honor these wishes. If your parents need nursing home care, it’s important to know if their monthly income meets state eligibility requirements for Medicaid.  4. Who do you trust to make decisions for you if you become incapacitated?  

Encourage your parent to officially ask someone to serve as his or her medical and financial proxy or power of attorney. It is best if your parent chooses someone to trust with making their financial decisions, and if that is possible, there is agreement within the family about who is being entrusted with these responsibilities. It is also important for this person to maintain clear communication with family members.  5. What are your end-of-life wishes?  Individual feelings vary regarding the prospect of having one’s life prolonged by the use of medical equipment and medication. Know your parents’ views, and make sure their preferences are recorded in an official document such as a living will or advanced health care directive long before they no longer are capable of expressing informed consent.  Remember, taking the step of having an open and honest conversation about these tough topics can save a world of heartache down the road.