estate planning

How to Help Your Parent as She Gets Older

Your older parent may need help with her finances and living trust estate plan.


As your mother of father get older, they may need your help. 

Help With Finances

As your parent's get older, they may need help paying their bills and managing their finances. If they ask you to help, you should help. But be careful. We recommend the whole family be made aware that you are helping your parent. Full disclosure is very important. You don't want a sibling to say you are taking advantage for financial gain. 

You need to avoid the "no good deed goes unpunished," doctrine. If mom or dad need help, someone should help. It's your mom or dad after all. But be smart about it, and keep your siblings in the loop. 

Also, keep records. If one of your siblings questions you (it will be the brother or sister who is too lazy to help), you can present a spreadsheet showing how you have managed your parent's finances.

Be smart, provide full disclosure, and keep records.

Dealing with Banks and Financial Institutions

There are three primary ways to get authority over your parent's accounts so you can help.

1. She can add your name to the account. This works well with the bank account that she uses to pay bills.

2. She can sign an Immediate Durable Power of Attorney that names you as immediate agent over her accounts that are not titled in her living trust.

Be aware that banks do not like durable powers of attorney, and often will not accept them without a fight. Durable powers of attorney are authorized under the California Probate Code, and the bank must accept them. But you may have to force the issue with the bank representative.

3. She can amend her living trust to name you as a current trustee. If you are a current trustee of your parent's living trust, then you will have authority over her living trust accounts. You and your parent will need to go to your bank or financial institution to complete their paperwork to add you as co-trustee to the accounts.

Make Sure She has a Well Written and Up to Date Estate Plan

This may be her last chance to create or to review and update her living trust estate plan. 

Avoid Probate. Have all of her probate assets been transferred to her living trust? Assets that will go through probate in California include real property and bank and investment accounts that, in total, are worth more than $184,500. This is critical, because California probate is expensive and time-consuming, and if you are the responsible child, you will be the one doing the probate. Not fun. 

If she does not have a living trust and she has assets that will go through probate, then she needs to set up her living trust ASAP, otherwise her estate will go through probate.

Will Her Estate Plan Work? Over the years, we have seen many poorly written living trusts that were difficult to interpret and administer. Some were DIY Legal Zoom-type living trusts and some were drafted by attorneys who did not know what they were doing. If the main provisions of your mother's living trust are not clear and straight-forward, then she needs to review her estate plan with a law firm that focuses on estate planning. 

Your parents took care of you when you were young, it now may be time to take care of them. Help them as you can, but be smart about it, with full disclosure to your siblings.

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