WSJ Ask an Expert: Tips for Caring for Senior Parents as an Expat: An Eldercare Checklist

Chad Creveling |

The Wall Street Journal invited Creveling & Creveling to be part of a panel of experts for personal finance on its WSJ Expat site. The following article originally appeared on the WSJ site and has been shared with permission.

Caring for elderly parents is never easy, but it can be even more challenging for expats living far away from family members. Fortunately, technology and planning can make the task a bit easier. Here are a few tips to help expats get started from Chad and Peggy Creveling of Asia-based Creveling & Creveling Private Wealth Advisory:

  1. Plan ahead. It's not easy to do, but at some point you'll have to talk with your parents about their needs, priorities and wishes, as well as your involvement, as they age. Not everyone will need help in all areas or at the same point in time, but it is inevitable that over time your parents will need some support in managing finances, medical care and daily life. The more you know about their situation and the earlier you know it, the easier it will be to help out when needed. Approach the situation with sensitivity and tact. A robust 70-year-old is unlikely to need or want the same type of help as someone who is 90.
  2. Gather and store a copy of key documents and information. Get copies of your parents' key medical, financial and legal documents to include items such as a list of medications they take, powers of attorney, insurance policies, birth certificates, social security numbers, bank and other financial accounts. On a home visit, help your parents organize their files if they are willing and consider storing copies on an encrypted cloud storage service such as Wuala, Tresorit or SpiderOak which both you and your parents can access.
  3. Obtain a list of your parents' advisers. Ask for the contact details for all your parents' advisers including lawyers, tax preparers, financial and other advisers. Meet them together with your parents if you can. Consider having your parents authorize their advisers to share information with you.
  4. Create a contact list of key people in your parents' neighborhood. This list should include friends, neighbors, church leaders and others who may regularly interact with your parents and who may be able to help out in an emergency. The list should include the contact details of doctors, pharmacies and key local services in your parents' home town such as police, fire department and utility providers, so you can contact them if needed.
  5. Ask whether estate planning documents are up to date. This means not only having a current will, but ensuring that there are financial and healthcare powers of attorney in place, along with a living will that specifies each parent's wishes for medical care. Keep copies along with other important documents.
  6. Set up online banking. Keeping things simple is important at any age, but as we grow older it becomes paramount. Many people have far too many financial accounts, which can be difficult to manage. These days all banking and investment needs can easily be handled by one brokerage account such as Schwab or Fidelity. Help your parents consolidate their accounts and arrange for online access. They should be able to pay bills, transfer their funds and manage their investments from one institution. Arranging for online access not only makes it easier for your parents to manage their accounts, but also makes it easy for you to step in if you need to help them manage their financial affairs.
  7. Set up automatic bill pay. Paying bills and dealing with day-to-day financial tasks can become a headache, especially as we get older. These days, though, it's possible to set up automatic payments for many recurring living expenses. This can be especially important for things such as insurance premiums, where missing payments can result in lost coverage. If possible, work through a budget with your parents so that you understand what their expenses are, and then help them automate as much as possible.
  8. Schedule regular video calls. There are a lot of cheap and easy ways to do this including Skype, Facetime, WeChat, Voca and other video chat services. This is a simple and cost-effective way to stay in touch with your parents and provide support. If your parents don't have an account, help them set one up when you're home and show them how to use it. It's a good way to stay in touch and also allow you to see how things are going back home.
  9. Get to know your parents' primary care physician. Dealing with the modern medical system can be a daunting experience. It's even harder when we're not well or slowing down. Ideally, we all would have an "advocate" to help navigate the medical system and to make good choices about medical care. Make an effort to know who your parents' doctors are and to keep their contact details. Ask your parents for permission to contact them about their situation. It's best to do this well in advance of a medical emergency.
  10. Gift your parents time with a financial planner. One way of easing into the process of helping your parents and ensuring that they'll be in a good position financially is to gift them time with a financial planner. Even if your parents try to stay on top of things without outside help, they may have questions and a second opinion can be of real value. Gifting time with a finance planning specialist (not a financial salesman) can be a great way for your parents to get their questions answered, uncover any pitfalls in their planning and to feel more secure about their future. It can also be a good way to open the discussion about your future involvement.

Here are additional resources: Family Caregiver Alliance (www.caregiver.org), National Institute on Aging (www.nia.nih.gov) and AARP (www.aarp.org).