Tags: Community & relationships Relationships Future security Standard of living

“If we don’t have an idea of what our parents’ assets are, then it makes it very hard to make decisions as to how to fund next-stage accommodation and care.”—Nicole Woodward, Head of Trustees Services, Australian Unity

Key points

  • Talking to your parents about their future can be empowering and liberating, as it means you can make sure their wishes are met if they are seriously ill or incapacitated.

  • By understanding their financial position, you can make an informed decision about their future care, and what they can and can't afford.

  • To ensure their wishes are met, it’s important that your parents nominate a medical guardian and give someone enduring power of attorney over their financial affairs; they should also set out an advanced care directive with instructions for end-of-life care.

Conversations about finances are rarely easy, even in families where money is talked about openly. And, as your parents get older and end-of-life planning comes into play, it can become even trickier, thanks to understandable sensitivities about discussing illness, death and aging.

But while it can require tact and diplomacy to discuss your parents’ financial position and future wishes, it’s absolutely essential that you do so. It’s the only way you’ll be able to plan for a situation where they might not be able to make decisions for themselves, and it’s the only way to make sure your parents can get the care and support they need.

Our experts Nicole Woodward, Head of Trustees Services at Australian Unity, and author, performer and host of the podcast ‘Parenting Up with Australian Unity’, Jean Kittson AM share insights and advice on how to start the process with your parents.

Building a clear picture of their finances

Discussing your parents' financial situation is an important first step in helping them to plan for the future. As Nicole notes, if something unexpected happens, such as a severe illness or injury, “if we don’t have an idea of what our parents’ assets are, then it makes it very hard to make decisions as to how to fund next-stage accommodation and care.”

Ideally, you should be having the money conversation early and often—because, the more information you have up front, the easier it is to get your parents the care and support they need.

“Because going into accommodation, they will charge you according to what you can afford,” says Jean. “Most of it is a co-payment with government subsidies and government funding, so you need to have all that in place and to understand your finances and eligibility.”

If you have the time to slowly build up a clear picture of your parents’ financial standing, Nicole suggests:

  • Reviewing bank statements. In addition to determining how much cash your parents have, also look for dividend payments and direct debits coming out of the account to help you to gain a sense of their overall financial position.
  • Checking the mail. As dividend or rental statements and superannuation letters arrive, you can start to piece together an understanding of their broader asset pool.
  • Assessing tax returns. Tax returns will reveal any other income sources you might not be aware of.

“The ultimate aim is to make sure we understand our loved one’s financial position, so we can understand what they can and can’t afford for their future care,” says Nicole.

“We need to know what their assets are and what to do with them to make the most of the government support available. Because government support is predicated on income and asset-testing [or] means-testing, and this can be complex.”

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Putting legal safeguards in place

In addition to understanding your parents' financial position, it's also important to discuss their wishes if they were to become seriously ill or incapacitated, and to put safeguards in place to ensure they are met.

There are a number of legal documents that allow your parents to set out their wishes, and to choose someone to make decisions on their behalf—which can be critical in the event of an unexpected illness or medical crisis. These include:

  • Nominating someone, to act as their medical guardian, which means they can make decisions about the kind of care and accommodation they receive.
  • Giving someone enduring power of attorney to make financial decisions on their behalf, including determining what care or residential accommodation they can afford.
  • Setting out an advanced care directive with instructions for end-of-life care, including the medical intervention they wish to receive.

While researching her book on elder care, We Need to Talk About Mum & Dad, Jean interviewed a woman whose mother experienced a medical event and had to be taken to hospital. With no directives in place for who could assume responsibility for her financial affairs and care, the daughter had to try to get her mother to sign the necessary legal documents from her hospital bed. Needless to say, this made an already distressing situation even more stressful and complicated.

“The ultimate aim is to make sure we understand our loved one’s financial position, so we can understand what they can and can’t afford for their future care.”

—Nicole Woodward, Head of Trustees Services,
Australian Unity

“She said everyone in the ward was looking at her like she was some sort of ghoul and trying to influence her [mother], trying to coerce her,” says Jean. “And it wasn’t about a will or anything like that—it was about putting in place the proper care afterwards and being able to make those decisions legally.”

When your parents are ready to nominate a guardian and to give someone enduring power of attorney, the first step is for them to have a discussion with that person to make sure they’re on board, Nicole says. It’s important to be sure the appointed person has your parent’s best interests at heart, as well as the capacity to manage their affairs.

The next step is to visit a solicitor. If you don’t have a family solicitor, there are many accredited specialists that deal in estate planning—just be sure to use someone with experience in the area. “It’s really important to find someone who does these sorts of documents on a regular basis, who does a lot of wills, a lot of enduring powers of attorney,” says Jean.

Normalising "the talk"

If your parents don’t have these safeguards in place, perhaps now is the time to discuss them? While no-one relishes the idea of talking about illness, incapacity or death, future-planning conversations can actually be very empowering—they give your parents more control over their future, not less, and help to make sure that the person making decisions on their behalf has as much information about their wishes as possible. It's an approach that can even help to support your parents' wellbeing.

Jean recommends normalising these discussions in your family, and even having a little refresh once a year—for example, around tax time or when the car registration is due. You and your parents will all feel better for it.

Jean compares it to when people started doing prepaid funerals years ago—it was “a bit weird” at first, “but now it’s more and more the norm”.

If your parents need a little convincing, gently remind them that these conversations are all about making sure their wishes are known up-front and early. That way, decisions don't have to be made on the fly and under stress in a time of crisis—and that's something that's better for them, and for you.


Information provided in this article is of a general nature. Australian Unity accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of any of the opinions, advice, representations or information contained in this publication. Readers should rely on their own advice and enquiries in making decisions affecting their own health, wellbeing or interest.

Remedy Healthcare Group Pty Limited and Australian Unity Health Limited are wholly owned subsidiaries of Australian Unity Limited.

An Australian Unity health partner, Remedy Healthcare provides targeted, solution-oriented healthcare that is based on clinically proven techniques. For more than 10 years, Remedy Healthcare has worked with more than 100,000 Australians – helping them to manage their health through caring, coaching, empowerment and support.