FEBRUARY 22, 2016 VOLUME 23 NUMBER 8
This week, a letter from Fleming & Curti, PLC attorney Amy Farrell Matheson, addressed to a father (not, as it happens, her father so much as your father):
Dad, we need to talk:
We love you and want the best for you. Over the past few months, we’ve noticed some things that are concerning to us. It makes us wonder if we should begin giving you some extra help around the house.
- We have found late notices and even shut off notices from the electric company and the water company; this makes us worry that your bills aren’t getting paid on time. Your filing system was always so organized, but now we find papers jammed in every which way. It’s hard for us to tell what bills have been paid.
- You and Step-Mom have always kept a lovely home, but now there are newspapers and unopened mail piling up, and the yard hasn’t been tended to. The refrigerator has expired and rotting food in it.
- And your car has a scrape along one side that we don’t remember seeing before.
We respect your privacy and we understand that it’s important to you to manage your household as you see fit. If there are some things that we could do to help lighten the load, we would like to help.
It would help us if we had a better understanding of how your finances are arranged, so that if we needed to step in and help out, we could do so easily. For example, would you like one of us to arrange it so that we can view your banking accounts online? That would allow us to help you balance your checkbook and avoid bank fees for returned checks. We could help you arrange for automatic payments for utilities, rent/mortgage, and insurance, so that you aren’t having to pay late fees. We could remind you to take the required distribution from your IRA this year; you know there’s a penalty for that if you don’t.
One of us could help you prepare your income tax returns, or help you assemble the documents that you will need to take with you to the accountant.
We have been thinking about when Aunt Bertha fell and broke her hip, and how hard it was for her kids to figure out how to pay her bills while she was in the hospital. There was a lot of stress and some hurt feelings because none of the kids knew who was in charge. Everyone had a different idea of how to take care of Aunt Bertha. And the bank wouldn’t talk to any of the kids without a power of attorney. As uncomfortable as it might be for you to open up to us about these things, it would really be better to have a discussion about what you want, at a time when it isn’t an emergency situation.
We’ve been to see our lawyer to get our own estate plan updated. It reminded us that we know very little about what you’ve planned. For example, who would you want to speak for you, if you had a health emergency and the doctors needed information? Have you selected someone to handle your finances if you aren’t able to – have you prepared a durable financial power of attorney or a trust? Who is your attorney? Where should we look for copies of your estate planning documents if we needed them?
We’ve been to see our financial advisor for a “tune up.” It’s been a while since we took a hard look at our investments and our plans for retirement. Do you still have the same financial advisor you have been using for years? Are you happy with him or her? Do you have questions about how your money is invested?
We are so thankful that Step-Mom has come into your life. You were so sad when Mom died and it’s good to see you happy again. We want to respect the arrangements that you and Step-Mom have made, but we’re not certain what you are expecting from us, and what you have agreed with Step-Mom. If there were a medical emergency, who would speak for you? Step-Mom or one of us? Do you and Step-Mom have an agreement as to how you handle household expenses? Did you prepare a prenuptial agreement before you got married? Do the two of you have a trust? Do you have joint accounts, or do you keep your money separate?
What can we do to help you stay in your home as long as possible, and to be comfortable, safe — and happy — there?