Navigating an Aging Parent’s Finances: Using the Family Meeting Model for Long-Term Care Decisions
A family meeting is one of the most effective ways to negotiate the important issues that families face. Over many decades, we’ve assisted generations of families with these meetings and have found that even one session can make a tremendous difference in clarifying objectives, responsibilities, and opportunities. Although you might associate family meetings exclusively with discussing an aging parent’s finances, they can also be tremendously useful when navigating the many decisions surrounding aging, such as determining optimal long-term care solutions, identifying available resources, and discussing how different family members can provide support.
How to Suggest a Family Meeting
Believe it or not, broaching issues of health and aging can be even more fraught than talking about money. Confronting the reality of aging can mean reckoning with a loss of freedom and facing your own mortality. But delaying discussions about these critical issues will not make them go away and typically only increases stress, limits options, and even provokes hurt feelings. Often one sibling or caregiver feels that they’re doing more than their fair share and that someone else isn’t doing enough. Family meetings provide a setting to address such imbalances and provide a clear roadmap for the future.
More positively, a family meeting can provide reassurance that your loved one is well provided for and that they will have the opportunity to enjoy the company of family members and friends. It can turn your family members’ hopes into tangible plans.
If you want to hold a family meeting, a good first step is to reach out individually to your relatives. You might assume that a certain family member will resist the idea, especially if some of your relationships are strained. But have you asked? People often feel so burdened by caring for an aging or sick loved that they are open to any opportunity to improve the situation. If you do face skepticism, though, emphasize the benefit of everyone being on the same page when it comes to medical information, financial resources, and daily caregiving needs. Highlight the efficiency of settling unresolved issues at one time, as well as the importance of hearing from all of the key players at once.
Who Should Participate in a Conversation About an Aging Parent’s Finances and Long-Term Care?
Typically, all immediate family members are invited. In some families, an aging loved one might be especially close to a sibling or cousin, so you might include them, especially if they help with caregiving. Strive to avoid the appearance of playing favorites. Be wary of inviting only one child-in-law or one grandchild, for example. So, if you invite one child’s spouse, invite all spouses if possible. Finally, if your aging family member has adequate mental capacity, they should attend the meeting and be given the opportunity to provide input about their own care.
Regardless of the invitation list, do not hold a family meeting in secret. It will undermine your purpose of creating cohesion and could make you seem biased toward a particular outcome.
Consider hiring a facilitator—someone viewed as neutral, such as a clergy member who knows the family well, a social worker, or a trusted professional, like a lawyer or financial advisor. Although a facilitator can’t resolve a family’s issues, a person well trained in conflict resolution can help participants feel heard while also keeping the focus on the agenda. Such a presence is especially helpful if emotions run high in your family.
Creating the Agenda
Remember: you are discussing more than just your aging parent’s finances. Talk with doctors or caregivers before preparing the agenda so that you have a thorough and current understanding of your loved one’s condition. Also gather important test results and medical reports, and collect accurate, specific information about the funds your loved one has set aside to pay for care.
Then, prepare a formal agenda. Conveners typically share the agenda in advance so that participants can prepare their thoughts. Sharing the agenda also helps participants see that the meeting will be focused, important, and deliberative, which can help align the family members.
Possible agenda items include:
Share information—current status and anticipated trajectory
- Review the latest medical evaluations, current medications, and recommended treatment modalities.
- Communicate the aging relative’s wants and needs.
Discuss care needs and options—assistance from third parties
- Where will the aging relative live—with a family member, in assisted living, or at home? Will your loved one need to move, or will their living space need to be renovated?
- How much professional medical care is required for treatments and medications?
- How much professional caregiving or supervision is necessary? How much is preferable?
- Are you already working with professional caregivers? If not, how will you select them?
- What other outside help might be beneficial?
Identify how family members can help
- Day-to-day caregiving, including transportation to appointments, supervision, and non-specialized medical care.
- Primary caregiver support, including providing breaks, meals, companionship, and assistance with household tasks.
- Liaison with medical establishment—talking to doctors, working with pharmacies, communicating with insurance.
- Legal representative—acting as power of attorney, designating an executor, etc.
- Family manager/communicator—share information within and outside of the family, convene meetings, maintain calendars.
Come to a consensus
- Discuss your loved one’s current financial resources. Determine if additional money will be needed and if outside funds might be available.
- Determine how much time each family member has for providing in-person assistance and ways they can help from long distance.
- Designate which family members will help with each area of need.
- Outline a schedule for care, visits, and key events.
- Identify which decisions must be tabled for additional discussion.
Running the Meeting
Ideally, each participant will attend the meeting in person, but prepare for some members to join virtually. Make sure to secure a meeting space that offers adequate internet signal and the required audio/visual set up. We find that neutral meeting spaces often work best, and we frequently host family meetings in Truepoint’s offices where necessary IT support can also be provided.
Designate one person to run the meeting, whether a formal facilitator or family member.
Aim to keep the focus always on the subject of the meeting—your loved one—and not on a particular solution or path. You might think you are highlighting the benefits of assisted living for your father, but what he hears is that his children are forcing him to move. In these instances, return to the concerns and values motivating you, such as, “We are worried about you falling on your stairs.” By focusing on the problem, you might uncover many practical solutions, such as a chair lift, a medical alarm bracelet, or moving the bedroom to the ground floor. This kind of brainstorming is one of the most powerful aspects of a family meeting. Together, in real-time conversation, attendees can uncover new solutions and strategies.
Remember that older people often worry about the quality of their life more than the quantity of their life. Their children, on the other hand, are typically concerned with safety and security. A spouse might then feel caught in the middle, trying to make everyone happy. Throughout the meeting, listen for opportunities to compromise and recognize that, if your loved one has sufficient mental capacity, they can decide certain risks are worth taking if it means preserving their independence and dignity.
A powerful strategy for compromise is to acknowledge that a certain plan might work for the time being but ask to identify fallback positions should conditions change. For example, you might agree that your parents will stay in their home for now but ask them to identify three retirement communities they might consider moving to. Then, you can begin planning visits and possibly adding their names to waiting lists. This doesn’t mean they must move when a spot opens up, but it lays the groundwork for a “plan B” if and when it is necessary.
Lastly, expect that during the meeting sibling rivalries may flare up or that someone will introduce unrelated issues or invoke incidents from the past. If this occurs, remind attendees that the goal is not to fix the family, but to join together to provide sustainable care for your aging loved one. Ask participants to keep the focus on identifying needs and making decisions.
Summarize the Decisions Made Regarding Your Aging Parent’s Finances and Long-Term Care
At the conclusion of the meeting, make sure everyone clearly understands the issues presented, decisions made, and still-undecided questions. Summarize what each participant has agreed to do. Ask the family member handling communications to create and distribute a written summary of the meeting, in which they clearly delineate roles and responsibilities. In addition, ask them to create and maintain a calendar that tracks visits, appointments, and treatment schedules so that everyone can see who is responsible for which tasks. All of these efforts can help family members abide by their commitments.
At Truepoint, we have a long history of facilitating family meetings for our clients, providing a neutral third-party perspective, and helping to reduce stress during what may be an emotionally challenging conversation. If you need guidance regarding your estate plan, navigating an aging parent’s finances, or other family financial decisions, we’re here to help. Schedule time to talk to one of our advisors today.