What Should I Know about Taking Care of an Aging Parent?
As parents, our children are always at the forefront of our concerns, especially during back-to-school season. But as my clients near retirement age, their own parents often become part of the caregiving picture as well. An aging parent who is showing signs of slowing down, or suddenly needs more direct attention after a medical emergency, presents a whole separate set of challenges and responsibilities that can affect your financial planning.
These four important steps will help you and your loved ones care for an aging parent, hopefully without stepping on any toes or bruising anyone’s ego:
1. Hold a family meeting.
When it becomes clear that your aging parent needs a little extra care and attention, you need to make a plan of action, especially if you won’t be the only loved one involved. Get together with any siblings and possibly close extended family who are already a part of your parent’s weekly routine. Make sure everyone is aware of the situation, and its severity. Don’t tell people dad just needs some help getting around if there’s a serious medical issue.
If need be, make a caregiving schedule; if possible, try to retain as much of your parent’s current schedule as possible. Maybe mom doesn’t have to give up her weekly bridge game, but a ride to and from would be helpful. Let every voice in the room be heard, especially if a drastic change, like moving your aging parent into assisted living, is on the table. Try to focus on your parent’s current situation, rather than dredging up the past, and any bad blood that might bubble up with it. And finally, pick a point person who is going to do a little more of the heavy lifting when it comes to scheduling, organizing your parent’s finances and health care, etc. If you have family and close friends in the picture, then caring for an aging parent should be a shared responsibility. Don’t take on more than you can handle. Depending on your family history and dynamics, this could be a difficult, and potentially volatile conversation. Consider having a professional counselor or mediator in the room to keep your family focused on how you can all give your aging parent the best care possible.
2. Gather all important documents.
Whatever your preferred filing system for important documents, make some space. If mom or dad don’t want to trust you with important originals, then scan or make copies of big things like:
- Identification: Birth Certificates, Marriage Certificates, Social Security cards, Driver’s Licenses, Passports, and Medicare or Medicaid cards.
- Bank, Investment, and Insurance account records.
- Wills and Trusts.
- A Living Will that outlines your parent’s care wishes should he or she become seriously ill or incapacitated.
- A durable Power of Attorney document that states clearly who is in charge of settling your parent’s affairs.
- HIPPA (Health Information Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) consent form, which will give you access to your parent’s health records.
Hopefully it won’t be for a long time, but eventually, you are going to have the difficult task of settling your parent’s estate. That process is going to be a whole lot easier if you organize everything now.
3. Find the caregiving sweet spot.
Since the day you were born, your parent has been the caregiver. That role reversal can be a difficult adjustment both for you and your aging parent. There are few things that a senior citizen hates more than feeling that they are no longer useful or engaged with the world, especially if their condition might mean the end of some favorite activities that have made retirement fulfilling. Finding that balance between giving your parent needed help and making your parent feel like you’re “babying” or “judging” is not easy.
When you’re spending time with your parent, try to stay in a “visiting” mindset. Take a more active role in your parent’s social circle, or the activities in his or her routine – especially things that get everybody out of the house. Your parent wants to feel like you want to spend time together. Parents who feel like they are burdening their adult children, or who feel like every visit is really a “check-up” in disguise, can become depressed and angry. Those feelings can manifest themselves in potentially dangerous shows of will, such as, “I can still drive myself if I want to,” or ignoring advice from medical and financial professionals.
So please, do take trips, play games, help with shopping, go to the movies. But if you’re really that concerned about expiration dates on food, or stacks of newspapers in the garage, maybe wait until nap time, or for an appointment when you know your parent will be out of the house. Whenever possible, try to save speeches and lectures for your own kids, so that your parent doesn’t feel like one.
4. Meet the professionals.
Start attending important meetings with your aging parent. Introduce yourself to your parent’s primary care doctor, attorney, and financial advisor. The pros whom your parent trusts with health care, legal affairs, and finances should know about any changes in his or her living situation, and your legal role in his or her estate. And you should know who to call in the event of an emergency.
At Keen Wealth, we don’t believe a financial plan is ever really “finished” – it’s an ongoing process that evolves with the realities of the market, and most importantly, with the needs of our clients. Make sure your parent’s fiduciary advisor has the same attitude about helping your family through this complicated transition.
Bill Keen is a CHARTERED RETIREMENT PLANNING COUNSELOR℠ and independent financial advisor with more than 25 years of industry experience. As the founder and CEO of Keen Wealth Advisors, a registered investment advisory firm, he specializes in providing personalized retirement planning designed to help people thrive before and during their retirement years. With a passion for educating others, Bill regularly blogs about retirement planning, hosts the podcast Keen on Retirement, and has contributed to U.S. News and World Report, Reuters, Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch, Yahoo Finance, and other publications. Based in Overland Park, Kansas, Bill and his team work with clients throughout the greater Kansas City area and across the nation. To learn more, connect with him on LinkedIn or visit www.keenwealthadvisors.com.
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