It may not surprise you to learn that the number of Americans caring for aging parents has skyrocketed in the last decade. Major insurance studies estimate that almost 10 million adult children over age 50 now care for an aging parent. In 1994, only 3 percent of men and 9 percent of women helped to provide care for a parent. By 2008, 17 percent of men and 28 percent of women provided care that goes beyond simple grocery shopping, or driving parents to appointments and helping with financial matters.
Most people who are uncomfortable with the subject of aging parents procrastinate talking about these inevitable issues with their aging parents and siblings. The result is once a crisis arises, no one has any idea what the parents have or where to locate any documents that may be needed (financial records, wills, trusts, prescriptions, etc.). Unnecessary stress and a sense of panic ensues on the part of the adult children, and the resulting decisions may not be well thought-out or even what your parents wished.
So, what are some of the major topics surrounding aging parents?
Former issues of parent-child relationships may resurface, or sibling rivalries may be rekindled, which further complicates the real issues about how to provide the best care for your aging parents. Parents may find it difficult to discuss their finances, health-related issues and wishes for their living arrangements with their children.
Caregiving for aging parents should always be a team endeavor. Other family members are obvious sources of support, but don’t overlook friends, clubs, or religious and organizational affiliations. Make a very intentional plan. Putting together a family caregiving plan now will help you respond more quickly and effectively when the need arises. A plan helps all involved get on the same page and keeps the focus on what’s best for your loved ones.
Many issues may arise during your caregiving experience that require additional information and resources. Don’t hesitate to reach out to organizations and professionals with experience in helping caregivers. And take care of yourself. As a caregiver, it’s easy to forget your own needs. Keeping up your energy and maintaining your health are critical in order to care for others.
Uncertainty can be avoided if you talk with your parents in advance of the need. It’s easy to put off these conversations because they can be difficult. It never seems like the right time to bring up what we think might be an uncomfortable topic. You may be surprised to find your loved ones have been meaning to have the talk, too.
Knowing that your loved one’s priorities are—where he or she wants to live and the nature of the care needed—will help you determine the next steps. It can lead you to find resources ahead of time. Your parents may be hesitant to share the details of their finances or health. He or she might say, “I just don’t want to talk about it.” Some people are private by nature. It’s also hard for some people to admit they need help, especially if it’s from their own children. If your parents shut you out, ask a trusted family friend, doctor or faith leader to approach your parents about your desire to help them plan.
As mentioned earlier, caring for a family member or friend can be too big a job for one person. Trying to do everything yourself may lead to burnout and health issues. Instead, reach out to form a larger network of friends, family and community resources that can help you with your loved one’s care.
Several websites can provide assistance in finding help with caregiving tasks. Check out the government’s eldercare locator. The National Council on Aging operates a benefits checklist service, and the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging has extensive information on caregiving help, plus an online locator to a local office in your area.
What about Medicare? Are you hoping that Medicare covers nursing-home stays? It does not. Medicaid does, but only for people who have exhausted most of their assets. What kind of Medicare coverage do your parents have? Do they also have a Medigap or Medicare Advantage policy? A drug plan? What are the co-pays, out-of-pocket limits, and other financial aspects of their insurance?
If your parent’s needs are extensive, consider hiring a geriatric-care manager who can put together a complete care plan for you, and can often identify community resources to reduce your own expenses and time. The National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers can explain professional standards and services, and also has a locator service to help you find a professional nearby.
Caring for an aging parent is rarely a welcome time of life. We would all rather see our parents (and ourselves) without the kinds of end-of-life challenges that we all know are possible — even likely. But we don’t have to approach those seasons of life without plans, without resources or without hope. Acknowledging all the possibilities and preparing for as many as we can give the process purpose, dignity and direction. Patient and purposeful preparation is the key.
One of the key elements in preparing for the future for yourself and your parents is accumulating and organizing information pertaining to their personal, medical and financial affairs. Readily available information will help you once a crisis occurs, and be prepared to resolve it according to your parent’s wishes.
The task of collecting and reviewing the information can be used as a catalyst for discussing these difficult issues with your parents and loved ones, as well as pinpointing steps needed or updates required to existing plans. The following list is designed to provide guidance on the types of information you need to maintain in an accessible place and reviewed periodically to verify it is current. It is not an all-inclusive list, but may help get you started with the information collection process.
- Driver’s licenses
- Social Security numbers or cards
- Birth certificates
- Marriage certificate
- Military records
- Citizenship papers
- Sources of income (pensions, Social Security, retirement plans, etc.)
- Real estate owned (deeds, ownership, property address, etc.)
- Primary residence
- Investment property
- Vacation home
- Financial assets
- Checking and savings accounts
- Brokerage statements
- Retirement (401(k), IRA’s, ESOPs) & pension plans
- Life insurance policies
- Mutual funds
- Stocks & bonds
- Other assets & personal property
- Business interests
- Automobiles & boats
- Collectibles & precious gems
- Valuables in storage or hidden (safe deposit boxes)
- Debt and liabilities
- Current mortgages
- Credit cards
- Notes and personal loans
Healthcare & Medical
- Contact information for healthcare professionals
- Living wills – healthcare durable power of attorney
- Both prescription & over-the-counter
- Hospital preference
- Medicare & Medicaid information
- Powers of attorney or durable powers of attorney
- Trust agreements
- Advance medical directives
- Durable medical powers of attorney
- Healthcare durable powers of attorney
- Living wills
- Life insurance policies
- Health insurance cards
- Supplemental insurance (Medigap and Medicare Advantage)
- Long-term care
- Dental plans
- Homeowners insurance policy
- Umbrella insurance policy
- Automobile policy
- Professional advisors
- Financial advisors
- Insurance agents
- Accountants & CPA
- Close friends and neighbors
- Service providers
- Past employers – retirement and pension plans
- Landlord (if renting)
- Burial instructions
- Prior tax returns & records
While none of us relishes the thought of our parents getting older and having to deal with health or other setbacks that may occur, opening the dialogue is the first step towards addressing future issues. Listen carefully to your parents and you may find they have already thought through some of these issues and are receptive to a conversation about their wishes.
If you find it difficult to initiate the conversation with your aging parents, Fortune Financial can serve as a great go-between as an independent party. Our expertise helps create an environment where honest and open discussions can lead to a well-designed plan based on the parents’ wishes while averting potential crisis points in the future for the children who are charged with executing their parent’s requests.
That is the Fortune Financial Difference!