As your parents begin to settle into their final phase of life, their health, residence, and finances could become a factor in your own 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 these steps will help you get the help you’ll need to make sure your parent is safe, cared for, and financially secure.
1. Assess the situation.
To determine where they may need help or may be vulnerable, take an assessment of your parent’s current situation, including the safety of their home, their current medical condition (including cognitive ability and emotional state), their overall finances, and other key people in their lives. In addition to collecting key documents noted below, try to understand their overall budget to help them continue to meet their obligations and to ensure poor financial decisions do not occur in their later years.
You may be used to having parents who were the perfect administrators and had ve everything in working order. This can change quickly in one’s elder years. You need to recognize the fact that things can and do change quickly.
Begin to make a list of areas or specific tasks that they may need help with, but be patient and thoughtful about assisting, as discussed below.
2. Call a family meeting.
No two families are the same, but in most cases, you’re going to want to gather together all siblings and close family members for an open and honest discussion. 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.
Depending on the parent’s condition, you might consider dividing up a caregiving or visitation schedule. Even pitching in on small day-to-day tasks like helping mom or dad buy groceries can be a big help. Just like in a marriage, things may not always be divided up equally or may not seem fair in some cases. The key is to work as a team, and to put egos behind.
If you’re contemplating a more serious decision, like assisted living, make sure you give everyone space to voice an opinion. Try to keep the conversation as positive and solution-focused as possible. Employing a mediator or family counselor to facilitate might be a good option if you’re concerned old family issues could boil over and prevent a solid resolution. In some cases, you might have to take the high road and focus on the goal of helping your parents.
3. Don’t try to parent but be proactive.
Shifting from the role of adult child to caregiver is going to be a difficult transition for both you and your parent. Don’t try to do too much too soon. Seniors 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.
A better approach is to try to frame your caregiving as a way of being more involved in your parent’s current routine. 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.
While you indeed do not want to baby them, there may be situations where you don’t necessarily ask for permission. Some tasks must get done, and even if they do not thank you or perhaps resent you for taking certain action, realize that it is in their best interest that certain tasks get done. For example, if there are house maintenance issues, one sibling may want to drive mom to the movies, while another sibling visits the unoccupied house during this time to address any cleaning or hoarding issues that need attention.
4. Gather the essentials.
Along with assessing your parents’ situation at a high level, you will want to organize and obtain copies of key documents. If your parent doesn’t keep all important documents in one location, now is the time to collect, copy, and file things like:
- Identification (driver’s license, passport, birth certificate, marriage certificate, etc.)
- Bank records
- Tax returns (confirm they are filing)
- 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)
There may be other documents that are unique to your parent’s living or financial situation. We can help you make a comprehensive list.
5. Meeting with your parents’ key advisors and friends.
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, tax preparer, and/or attorney. Make sure the relevant professionals have all important information about changes to your parent’s health, mental capacity, or living situation.
If your parents attend a different church than you do, you might want to attend their church on a regular basis. Often, church members may know more than you do about their condition and are willing to help, when needed. Church is one area elderly individuals often like to continue to stay involved with and continue their spiritual growth. You will want to do what you need to do to keep them as involved as possible.
Meeting with others in their life is also important. If you do not live in the same city as them, reacquainting yourself with their key relationships will be important. This could include neighbors, close friends, and other nearby relatives.
6. Plan for the next steps.
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. What do you need to do to make their home safe? Do you or anyone in your family have the room, the time, and the means to take in your parent, if needed? How can non-caregiving siblings or other family members chip in on associated costs of living?
In many cases 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. Consider whether you need to engage an elder care attorney to help with Medicaid planning to potentially help pay for this support.
7. Communicate regularly.
It will be important to communicate regularly with key family members and your parents. Keep key family members involved and provide encouragement and a helping hand to other family members, when needed. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Continue to check-in with your parents to see how they are doing. While you will want to ensure their practical needs are being met, don’t forget to check-in with them on an emotional level. Discuss fun stories from the past, and express thankfulness for what they have done for you and the family over the years. Reinforce to them that you are available for them because many elderly individuals do not want to be a burden to their children. Let them know this is the season of life where you are willing, able, and grateful for being able to assist them.
None of these steps are easy, and none of the associated options your family settles on will be perfect. The sooner you loop us in on how caring for an aging parent might affect your financial picture, the sooner we 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.