How to help your parents
There may not be a more sensitive topic than this.
Some parents are open about finances and decision making; others however are from the school of privacy. They do not discuss their finances with anyone and that includes their children.
None the less, children feel a duty to assist their parents as they are aging. Grilling them about their bank balances will not achieve the desired success. Another approach may be to offer guidance.
Explain first that in the event of a medical emergency, how important it would be for you to know where to access their information. Could they perhaps list the names and addresses of their bank accounts and financial institutions? Additionally, could they list their bill that are regularly paid such as utilities, mortgages, medical insurance, etc? Explain that this would assist you in helping them in the event of a hospitalization.
If your parents own a safety deposit box, it is vitally important that an additional person be on the signature card. Without that, the family would be unable to access important documents.
A good way to approach this might be to let them know that you have recently done this and wonder if they have also done the same.
It might be a good time to suggest that streamlining might make life easier for them and for their family. If they have multiple accounts scattered all over town, it might be time to consolidate those accounts at one financial institution.
This might be the time to ask if they have updated Wills, Durable Power of Attorneys and Patient Advocate Designations. Try to explain the importance of these documents, stressing that you are not attempting to influence their decision making, take away their power or nose into their business.
While you are at their home, try to notice if things are all running smoothly. Are there piles of unanswered mail and bills?
Discuss with your parents the scams and frauds that are common today. Millions of older Americans are victims of these scams. Explain that the IRS does not call people on the phone. People asking for social security numbers or bank account information cannot be trusted. Be careful not to lecture. Explain that everyone is vulnerable to these scams, not just seniors.
If your parents do name you on their Durable Power of Attorney or place your name as a signer on their checking account, remember that it is not your money. You must keep accurate records as if you were a disinterested third party (think bank). Never co-mingle money. Never borrow money from their accounts.
This is an area loaded with land mines. Tread carefully and be patient.