My mother is a widow and is in her early 8Os. Since my father died five years ago, she has handled all her own affairs, including her investments. Over the last number of months, I’ve noticed my mom has slowed down and I have convinced her that I should take care of managing her legal and financial affairs. My first question for you is what, if any, legal documentation do I need to get? I want to make sure that I am protected. I have two siblings, one of them who is estranged from the family and I believe could cause me some problems in the future. My second question to you is, in handling my mother’s financial affairs, what advice can you give me in taking over?
In looking at your situation, I believe that the first thing you should do is obtain a medical power of attorney for your mom and a durable power of attorney. These are two separate powers of attorney that together will give you the legal rights to handle your mother’s financial and legal affairs and at the same time, be involved in her medical care. For example, by having a medical power of attorney, you will be able to communicate directly with your mother’s healthcare providers, including her doctors. A medical power of attorney can also give you the right to make an end-of-life decision for your mom. Particularly in a situation where an unhappy family member could cause problems, having a medical power of attorney will give you the protection you need.
The other power of attorney I mentioned, a durable power of attorney is more geared for any legal or financial issue that may develop. This can include handling your mom’s banking relationships or even making decisions regarding her home. The bottom line, by having a medical and a durable power of attorney you can have the power and the authority to do what you think is necessary to handle your mother’s affairs and at the same time, provide a level of protection for you in the event that other family members create problems.
In handling your mother’s affairs, there are some things I would recommend you do to make your life easier. The first would be to find out if she has any current estate planning documents such as a will, a trust or even other powers of attorney. If she has these documents, the first thing you need to do is to make sure they are still current and reflect your mother’s wishes.
I also think it would be important if you are going to take over your mother’s affairs to collect her medical information; such as who her doctors are and a list of her prescriptions. At the same time, it would make sense to make sure you understand what her insurance coverages are and determine if any changes need to be done.
In handling your mother’s financial affairs, it is important to accumulate her data and know exactly where she stands. In addition, I would make sure you have any passwords and login information from any of her accounts. I also recommend that you make sure you’re added on as a signatory to her bank accounts and brokerage accounts. You should also get the names and numbers of professionals she may have dealt with such as financial advisors, insurance salespeople and CPAs. It is important that you obtain a copy of her tax return. This could be an invaluable piece of information in helping you accumulate her assets.
Life used to be easy; it is no longer that way. Taking over a loved one’s affairs is not easy. However, what can make the task less daunting is to make sure you get off on the right foot by obtaining the necessary legal documents and other information which will make your job much easier.
Rick is a fee-only financial advisor. If you would like Rick to respond to your questions, please email Rick at firstname.lastname@example.org