Have a serious heart-to-heart conversation with your parents.
This is a conversation that should be based on a relationship of equals. The adult children may need to overcome the adult-child roles that have developed over time. The children should also avoid taking on the role of talking down to their parents. The point of the conversation is to gather information to prepare for future contingencies. The conversation should address the parents’ health issues, their medications, and their doctors. It should also address the parents’ values, and the qualities of life they most cherish. Finally, the conversation should address whom the parents trust to make decisions if they were unable to make decisions for themselves. This conversation will be the building block for such tools as an advance medical directive, a power of attorney or a living trust. The conversation ensures that there is a clear choice of who will be able to make decisions, and that there is some guidance for those decisions.
Avoid commingling assets.
The main concern here is future qualification for Medicaid. Medicaid is a means-tested program, which means that a person must have less than a certain amount of assets, or countable resources, in order to qualify. However, a person cannot give money away to qualify for Medicaid. Commingling assets can be seen as a gift that could cause a period of ineligibility for Medicaid.
Avoid opening “convenience accounts.”
"Convenience accounts" are accounts that list both the parent and child as the joint owners. While well-intentioned to permit the adult children to be able to pay the parents’ bills, such accounts open the money up to unnecessary risk. If the child were in a car accident and sued, for example, the money in the bank account could be used to satisfy a court judgment.
Do an inventory of your parents’ assets when they move in.
If the parents do apply for Medicaid in the future, they will need to provide detailed financial information to the Government. An inventory now can save some effort later. The inventory can also serve as evidence of what is in the house if there should be a disaster, such as a fire, and an insurance claim made. Finally, the inventory can help avoid future disputes over what happened to the parents’ property.
Communicate with your siblings about your parents.
Too often, wills contests are not so much about greed, so much as hurt feelings. Litigation can be motivated by the siblings who feel unappreciated or left-out. A little communication between siblings now can avoid costly and messy litigation later.
Research what resources are available to help you care for your parents.
Often, when adult parents move in, it is stressful and difficult for the caregiver child. Pressure can be eased by hiring companionship care and in-home nursing care. Also, the caregiver child should not feel guilty about the need to take a break. Respite care is available for this very reason.
Ask your parents to update their legal documents.
Wills, advance medical directives, trusts, and powers of attorney should be reviewed to make sure they achieve the desired goals.
Make a contingency plan.
What would happen to the elderly parents if an accident or sudden illness were to befall the adult children? Who would take care of the elderly parents then?