Watching your parents age can be tough, especially if their health or cognitive abilities start to decline. Figuring out their needs, understanding the options, and making decisions can feel overwhelming. And there may come a point in their final phase of life when their health, residence, and finances could become a factor in your own financial life and retirement planning. This is especially true if you are the person your parents have tasked with settling their estates.
There’s no simple way to tackle all the logistical and emotional challenges associated with caring for an aging parent. But focusing on some concrete action items can help you feel less stressed, more confident, and more in control of the situation while also ensuring your parent is safe, cared for, and financially secure.
1. Involve the Rest of the Family in Your Aging Parents’ Plans
If you have siblings or aunts and uncles, make sure to include them in the conversations regarding your parents’ plans. Just like you, they want to know that their loved ones are going to be cared for as they age.
And if your parent is dealing with a serious and potentially debilitating health issue, don’t sugar-coat the truth. Hiding the facts now will only lead to hurt feelings, resentment, and poor planning.
Some of the tough topics you all may need to consider in this process could include:
- Where your parent will live
- Who will be their primary caregiver
- How much each family member will contribute financially
- How much each family member will contribute of their time
- Who will have the power of attorney
>Make sure you give everyone space to voice their opinion. Try to keep the conversation as positive and solution-focused as possible. In many cases, involving a third party who can act as a mediator or sounding board may be helpful. I know I’ve walked several clients and their families through these discussions so that we could put their parents’ financial life plans in place.
2. Collect Critical Documents You and Your Family May Need Along the Way
Unless you have super organized parents, it’s likely that all their important documents aren’t easily located together all in one place. Now is the time to collect, copy, and file important documents you may need, such as:
- Identification (driver’s license, passport, birth certificate, marriage certificate, etc.)
- Bank records
- Home deeds and vehicle titles
- Insurance records
- Investment and retirement account records
- Wills and trusts
- Power of attorney
- End-of-life directives
- Login information for important online accounts (banking, subscriptions, social media)
Now, this list is by no means exhaustive. There may be other documents that are unique to your parent’s living or financial situation. But ask for help. With the assistance of your family’s financial advisor, you can make a comprehensive list of the documents to which you should have access.
3. Don’t Try to Become the Parent
For many parents, shifting from being the caregiver to the one receiving care can be difficult. It can be hard on the parent’s ego and pride when their children shift into the role of an adult caregiver. It is often a difficult transition for both parties involved—the parents and the children.
Don’t try and do too much too soon. Aging parents who feel like they’re being “babied” are prone to depression or dangerous outbursts of independence, like grabbing the car keys or refusing to take medication.
Instead, focus your caregiving on becoming more involved in your parents’ current routine (unless of course, their safety calls for more drastic measures like assisted living or 24-hour care). For example, you may decide to take a seat at dad’s weekly card game. Put the grandkids’ sports and performance events on the calendar and offer transportation. Bring an extra dish to a dinner party. Drive mom to the movies… and let a sibling know the house will be unoccupied for a few hours if there are any cleaning or hoarding issues that need attention.
4. Get to Know Your Parents’ Advisors, Doctors, and Attorney
One of the toughest parts about caring for an aging parent is often the time commitment that is involved; but tagging along to doctor’s appointments, estate planning appointments, and financial planning meetings will help you learn more about their situation and make your job much easier if their cognitive faculties begin to decline. Plus, being on good speaking terms with each of these professionals will make the caring process much smoother.
Start attending doctor’s appointments. Don’t be afraid to ask questions that will help you familiarize yourself with your parent’s medical condition and aid with any at-home care like prescription drugs.
Also, ask your parent to introduce you to his or her financial advisor and attorney. Make sure the relevant professionals have all important information about changes to your parent’s health, mental capacity, or living situation. These are the professionals who will be able to help you make tough decisions when the time comes, so don’t underestimate their involvement early on.
5. Plan for Both of Your Futures
It’s a tough pill to swallow, but at some point, your aging parent may no longer be self-sufficient. The earlier that you and your close family members decide upon an action plan, the better. You may be able to fill in the caregiving gaps now yourself, but eventually, you may need more help.
Eventually, an assisted living facility is a more realistic option. But be aware that your parent’s Medicare plan probably will not cover those costs. If your parent does not have retirement funds earmarked for end-of-life care, you and your close family members may need to hold another meeting to discuss how to pay for a facility.
I’ll be the first to admit that none of these steps are easy, and none of the associated options your family settles on will be perfect. The goal is to keep your parents as comfortable, safe, and secure as possible without draining you and your other family members of your time and resources.
The sooner you understand how caring for an aging parent might affect your financial picture, the sooner you and your financial life planner can get to work on the money side so that you can concentrate on giving your family the love and support it needs during this difficult time.
The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.