credit & debt

What You Should Know About Your Parents' Finances

Here's the information you should collect from mom and dad -- in case they ever need your help managing their money.

Put this on your to-do list: Meet with your parents to create a list of their accounts and insurance policies and find out where they keep their important documents.

Why? Because someday you might have to help them handle their finances -- or take over money management for them entirely as I am having to do for my mom, who has Alzheimer's disease. It's better to have all the information you need before mom or dad can no longer take care of their finances. Otherwise, “it’s like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle and you don’t always have the box to see what the ultimate outcome will be," says Greg Merlino, a financial planner and president of Ameriway Financial Services.

However, parents usually are reluctant to share their financial information with their children, Merlino says. For tips on how to start the conversation, see How to Discuss Money With Your Parents.

The information below that I am suggesting you collect is based on my experience with my mom and interviews with financial planners. With all this personal information from your parents comes great responsibility to use it only as intended. State your clear reasons for asking for the information, and live up to these assurances.

Let your parents know that, in most cases, you won't be able to access the accounts listed below unless you have power of attorney for them. There are safeguards they can employ to prevent power of attorney abuse.

Here's the information you should collect:

--The name of the bank they use and the type of accounts they have
--Insurance policy numbers (including Medicare) and contact information for your parents' insurance agents
--Contact information for their mortgage company
--Retirement account numbers and contact information for account managers
--Brokerage account information
--Where their income comes from if they are retired (Social Security, pension, IRA withdrawals)
--Financial planner's name and contact information -- if they have one
--Accountant's name and contact information -- if they have one
--Lawyer's name and contact information -- if they have one
--Their doctors' names and contact information
--A list of prescription drugs they take
--Their medical history (any drug allergies, past surgeries, etc.)

Find out ...

--Whether they pay for bills through automatic debit -- set up automatic bill-pay if they haven't already
--Whether they have to pay estimated taxes throughout the year (on dividend income, for example)
--Where they keep the deed to their home
--Where they keep their tax returns
--Where they keep their insurance policies
--Where they keep their stock or bond certificates
--The combination for their home safe
--Location of lock box keys
--Their final wishes/funeral arrangements--Whether they have an updated will
--Whether they have designated anyone as their power of attorney
--Whether they have a living will

If they don't have a will, living will or power of attorney, see tips for using online forms to draft these documents or ask them to schedule an appointment with an attorney.

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