Ten key questions you must ask your older parents
As our parents age, yet remain in good health, it’s easy to avoid having the conversations with them about possible difficulties in the future
Yet planning for the future is critical to ensure your parents have a say in their future care whilst they are still able to do so and also to ensure you feel able to do the right thing for them when ill-health or other problems inevitably strike
So what are the ten questions you should ask them?
- Have they thought about how to keep active and busy? Many of our parents are very busy and have active social lives, but for those are retiring and have not given it as much thought as they should, it is a good idea to consider hobbies and other activities, particularly if they are alone. Volunteering is an excellent way to meet people and feel useful. It is also a good time to introduce them to PCs or tablets to include them digitally and allow them to communicate with family and friends, as well as access all the other benefits of the Internet, such as entertainment and shopping
- Have they made a will? To ensure that those people who they want to benefit from your estate on death receive their entitlement. These could be relatives, friends or charities. If they are married and want to leave everything to their spouse to ensure no Inheritance Tax will be paid on their death. All gifts to spouses are tax exempt from Tax. To leave no uncertainty or ambiguity, which could result in a dispute arising in the absence of a Will. If they do not make a will, the Rules of Intestacy apply, which means that the spouse will receive all personal items and the first £250,000. In addition they will receive a life interest in half the remainder of the estate. The rest of the estate will go to children and this could result in Inheritance Tax being paid. Working out the spouse’s entitlement on intestacy may be very complex and costly. If there are no spouse and children, the estate will go to more distant relatives, with whom you may have had no contact with for years whilst close friends are excluded
- Have they considered a Living Will/Advanced Directive? At a time when personalisation is key and the rights and dignity of the individual are paramount, advanced directives are featuring more and more in the legal landscape. They represent significant mechanisms for both safeguarding and promoting an individual’s health and interests. Crucially, they maintain an individual’s dignity. If, for example, an individual was in need of care and treatment, but was without mental capacity, the advanced directive would indicate if such treatment was to be refused
- Do they want to make a trust? A Trust can be established in your parent’s lifetime, or by their Will. Trusts are there to provide income to others in specific circumstances. There are two types of trust: Life Interest Trust, where your older relative might want to provide income rather than capital to a beneficiary,e.g. in a Will if they are in a second marriage with children only from their first marriage, they may want to provide income for their spouse and preserve the capital for their children or Discretionary Trusts, which allow Trustees to use their absolute discretion as to whether to benefit a member of a class of beneficiaries, e.g. this may be useful where your parent has a child on benefits and they don’t want to give them an absolute interest under their Will which would result in the reduction or removal of benefits
- Should you get Power of Attorney? Power of attorney enables your parent to give power to another person to look after their affairs when they no longer have capacity to do so themselves, for example, if they have a stroke, develop dementia or any other illness which impairs their ability to make decisions. There are two Forms of Lasting Powers of Attorney: Property and Financial Affairs Power of Attorney, enabling people to deal with someone’s finances, for example invest money on their behalf, pay bills and even sell their property and Health and Welfare Lasting Power of Attorney, enabling people to make decisions on someone’s behalf about where they live, who looks after them and their on-going medical care. They can also give their Attorney power to make decisions about life sustaining treatment. Lasting Powers of Attorney can only be made whilst your ageing parent fully understands the nature of the power they are giving to another person
- Should they be registered disabled? You can register your parent as disabled if they have a substantial and permanent disability. A substantial disability is defined as ‘affecting the individual’s ability to complete basic tasks, being dependent on equipment or assistance in many activities of daily life’. If they are eligible to be registered disabled, there are certain advantages, such as access to certain facilities such as disabled toilets with a key, access to some concessions, such as a Disabled Person’s Railcard, discounts at some leisure facilities and the possibility of reclaiming VAT on specific disability equipment
- Have they made sure that they are safe at home? Home should be where they are safest, but as people age, so their risk of accident increases. Discuss not only their house security in terms of house, smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, but also whether they need a Fall Alarm is they are becoming unsteady. Also check whether their home can be made safer by removing trailing wires, fixing loose or fraying carpets and ensuring lighting is good. An incredible third of all people over 65 in the UK fall at home every year and over 40% of those over 80.
- Have they thought about their preferred care options? Obviously, your parent would want to remain at home for as long as possible, but if this becomes infeasible, what would their and your preferences be? Would they like to live with you and would you like this? You need to consider the impact on your own relationships. Or would they prefer to look at a retirement community with a warden and/or nursing staff on hand for when they become less able to cope.
- Have they considered how they might fund care? For those people who have assets above the current means test threshold of £23,250, and do not qualify for NHS Continuing Care , it is important to consider the costs of future care. Does your parent want to save for this in the bank by placing capital on deposit, either all in an instant access account, or by using some fixed term accounts in addition as appropriate. This is the simplest option to understand and operate as funds can be transferred quickly and easily and capital is accessible depending on accounts used, but interest rates are currently poor, which means that capital can run down very quickly and for large sums, it may be difficult to administer if you are trying to keep balances below the Financial Services Compensation Scheme limit of £85,000. Or would they prefer to make stock market-related investments, such as unit trusts or other funds, involving placing a reserve amount of in a deposit account and investing the remainder with a view to receiving more income than on a deposit account. This has the potential for higher income than deposit accounts and possibly capital growth, but investment values can fall as well as rise and as a result the benefits of extra income can be outweighed by falls in capital value and an understanding of the risks involved with investments is necessary. Or do they want to look at a Care Fees Annuity, which involves paying an amount of capital to an insurance company in return for a guaranteed pre-agreed income to a care provider for the rest of their life. This can provide a high and increasing income paid tax free direct to a registered care provider for life, however long that may be, protect at least some of the available capital and provide peace of mind that capital will never run out, but it involves a large capital outlay at outset, meaning that it can be poor value if death occurs in the early years and there is a lack of flexibility , as once purchased it is not possible to change the terms if circumstances change.
- Have they thought about their funeral wishes? Because most people tend to avoid the subject of death and funerals, they tend to be poorly equipped to make informed decisions when they are bereaved. Beyond the basic decision of burial or cremation, people may need to consider the technicalities and pit-falls of options such as body donation, burial on private land or at sea. For those planning ahead, they need to be aware of the costs of making the wrong person their executor, the possible benefits of appointing a power of attorney over their financial and health affairs and why they might consider making a living will (now called advance directives)