As we approach the holiday season, many adult children are planning on taking some time to visit their parents. Although these visits usually involve a large family meal and celebration, it is also a good time to see how well your parents are aging.

If your mom or dad had a sudden serious illness, life-threatening injury or sudden passing do they have estate planning documents in place? Do you know where to find these important documents? Have you ever had the conversation with your parents to discuss their healthcare wishes?

Having a conversation with your parents and having the necessary documents in place can reduce stress at a time of decline, avoid potential financial problems and family strife, and provide instructions for health-related challenges.

As adult children, we need to anticipate the possibility that our parents may have a sudden decline in decision-making ability due to an acute illness or injury. We also need to know who has the legal authority to pay bills or make other financial decisions if our parent is having difficulty managing finances due to a cognitive decline.

So plan out some time this holiday season to see if your parents have these important documents:

Advanced Directive: This document provides instructions on how much or how little medical care you would want if you were temporarily or permanently unable to communicate your wishes. As part of the Advanced Directive, you select a Durable Power of Attorney (POA) for Healthcare Decisions that would act on your behalf to follow your wishes. It is important that you take the time to clearly understand your parent’s preferences for care if you are the designated healthcare POA. This person is typically a close family member, relative, or close friend.

Power of Attorney for Asset Management: This type of Power of Attorney gives an individual the authority to handle financial and legal issues should you become incapacitated and unable to handle your own affairs. The designated POA is typically a trusted and dependable member of the family who would be able to make the necessary financial and legal decisions on your behalf.

HIPPA release form: A HIPPA form allows family members or close friends to have access to protected health information during your treatment. This confidential information cannot be shared if you have not been added to the HIPPA consent.

Will: A will outlines transfer of assets upon your death. We all have special things that we may want to pass on to our family and friends. Your will identifies who gets what and who will be in charge of gathering and distributing everything according to your instructions. If you die without a will, the laws of your state will decide how your property will be distributed upon your death.

As part of my first assessment visit, I ask each of my new clients if they have these very important documents. If they have not taken the time to prepare these documents, I refer them to an estate planning attorney, often with special training in elder law.

So take the time during this holiday season to make sure your parents have a plan in place with instructions on what type of medical care they desire and what should be done if they are incapacitated and unable to handle their own affairs. Although it may not be the most exciting time you spend with your parents, it will be time well spent.