We must prepare for the future we want, and the one we don’t. Just as we need to plan for emergencies, education costs, major purchases, and retirement income, we must also prepare for the care for our elderly parents.

Elder care is primarily provided by family members. About 25 percent of the US population reported having a parent over the age of 65 who needs assistance with errands, finances and personal care, according to a 2015 Pew Research study[1].  About 79 percent of the assistance is provided by family, and only 13 percent is provided through custodial care nurses or nursing homes.

These preparations may not be easy, but they are also not as overwhelming as you may fear. In a two-part series, I will share the four most important areas to focus on: Communication and Responsibilities and Healthcare; and Financial Matters and Taking Care of the House. I’ll offer some concrete steps for families to take in each area.

Communication and Responsibilities

Establish communication and decide responsibilities, recognizing that they may change.

Some families share responsibilities, and some decide on a trusted agent, who may or may not be a family member, to help aging parents. In either case, it’s important to communicate as specifically as possible about the roles and responsibilities. When it’s appropriate, put those agreements in writing and in legal form.

If you decide on a trusted agent, the family members need to know that the trusted agent has accepted the responsibility and what their own responsibilities are to help. Discuss specifically how duties and costs will be shared by the family members. Such serious conversations help to avoid family fights in the future. It is a great honor and responsibility to be named an agent over a parent’s personal, financial, and medical affairs. It’s also an honor to support that person as a caregiver, and to help your parents.

Parents may not need their agent to fully take over their personal, financial, and healthcare affairs in the beginning – or ever.  Encourage your parents to work with the trusted agent and their family to help them monitor their personal, financial, and medical issues.

As part of this process, ensure you have all the estate planning documents you need. They include a current durable power of attorney, a healthcare power of attorney, and a living will/terminal care directive. These documents name a responsible member of the family or a friend as the trusted agent to make decisions during periods of incapacity. The documents need to be in proper order and stored in an accessible location, so you or another family member can locate them in an emergency.

Safeguards can be included in the documents:

  • The healthcare power of attorney can require that siblings are alerted in a timely manner to the medical emergency. 
  • The durable power of attorney can require that copies of financial statements be sent to family members to help monitor activity initiated by the agent in the financial accounts.

Healthcare

Lay the groundwork for quality medical care that your family and your parents want.

  •  Make sure you and your siblings have a right to inquire about the health of your parents by adding your names to paperwork on file at doctors’ offices.
  • Plan for someone to periodically attend medical appointments so that they understand the medical needs and prescriptions of your parents. You can also ask doctors to provide detailed care reports (often an extra charge not covered by insurance), or hire a medical advocate to attend so that all issues and directions are properly recorded and understood. 
  • Plan how to help your parents with clothing and food choices, medication management and their meals.  This is especially important if eye sight, smell, or taste buds are failing.

Aging is expensive and inevitable, but handled well, it can be a process that builds love and trust in your family. A CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional can help you plan for the uncertainties ahead.

Next week, we’ll look at two other topics crucial to caring for your parents as they age:  Financial Matters and Taking Care of the House.


[1] http://assets.pewresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/3/2015/05/2015-05-21_family-support-relations_FINAL.pdf