Caring for aging parents is something that most of us have at least thought about, or may already be experiencing. When the time comes, you hope you are equipped, but the reality is that you can’t predict the future and anticipate all scenarios. However, you can take some steps to help the process run a little more smoothly.
The best place to start is with an open and honest conversation with your parents about what they might face as they grow older and the role they envision you playing. This conversation will require considering two elements: the practical and the emotional. While practicality and emotion don’t always go hand in hand, be ready to face both of them.
Once you’ve had the open discussion with your parents, there are several steps you can take to be proactive about assisting them in the future. Here are a few to consider:
- Financial or general power of attorney. If one has been signed, the person named in the document should know where it is and how to obtain it.
- Healthcare power of attorney. If this exists, copies should be provided to the proper physicians and the agents listed.
- Trusts. If one is in place and you are already named as the back-up trustee, discuss amending the trust to add yourself as co-trustee now. Doing so will help simplify future decision making and execution of transactions.
- Account beneficiaries. Review those named on IRAs, Transfer on Death accounts (TODs), life insurance policies, pensions, and any other account where a beneficiary is appointed to confirm the designations are still appropriate.
- Signatory. Consider adding yourself or another trustworthy person as an additional signatory to your parents’ checking and savings accounts.
- Important contacts. Ask your parents to compile a contact list of their doctors, lawyer, accountant, financial advisors, etc.
The above list is not exhaustive, but it’s a good starting point. If documents aren’t already in place, it’s important that they are signed while your parents are still mentally sound. We recommend working specifically with an estate attorney to do so. These issues might not be fun to talk about, but planning ahead of time will provide both you and your parents with the most control and flexibility in the future.
It’s important to also contemplate the impact to you and your own long-term goals. Unexpected assistance provided to a family member can mean financial support or time away from work to be by their side. Either way, it can significantly impact your own financial security. It would be helpful for you to have an understanding of their financial situation and their ability to care for themselves in the event of a medical need. If you anticipate the need to provide for medical care or long-term assistance, consider adding this as one of your financial goals when planning with your advisor.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the financial and practical elements, and overlook the emotional impact to you and your parents and how the dynamic of your relationship might change.
From your perspective, you could be feeling a range of emotions from sadness in the face of your parents’ mortality, to stress from the compression of taking care of children, a career and now the people that once cared so dearly for you. From your parents’ perspective, they could be feeling fear, anger, helplessness, resentment and depression from dealing with their own declining abilities and loss of independence in a world that’s quickly changing. With so much emotion on both sides, it’s easy for communication to break down. This is exactly the time when open communication is critical.
At this year’s Truepoint Annual Meeting, our keynote speaker, David Solie, offered recommendations on what you can do to improve this situation and open the lines of communication. To start, it’s important to get on the same page with your parents over what’s happening, be it a medical condition or if/when they will no longer be able to live independently. Be sure to consider their desires and options for them to maintain some control. For example, it might make it easier if they relocate and live with you, but don’t underestimate the importance of their social circles and the familiar surroundings of their home to their well-being. Additionally, remember to empathize with them and use language that is productive, not provocative. The most important thing is that they know you are there alongside them, not controlling them.
Caring for your parents is a big task and it’s not one to be done alone. There are many resources available to both you and your parents to help you along the way. Many communities have senior centers and social programs that specialize in these situations. Additionally, there are support systems in place for you, such as respite care organizations or The Alzheimer’s Association. Consider turning to your own financial advisor or attorney for help as well.