Taking Care of Your Loved Ones: Start the Conversation

As we grow older and accumulate wealth, we gradually steer our minds toward the legacy we’ll leave behind for our families. We want to ensure our families reap the benefits of our earnings after our passing and will be supported as they pursue their own life goals. While legacy planning can begin at any stage, managing assets and inheritance are not the only issues that need our attention as we age. Oftentimes our own parents’ health and safety are our first insight into the pressure a family can feel when age begins to alter one’s lifestyle. Caregiving needs, health limitations, and financial obligations are just a few areas that may raise questions and tensions for you and your family. Whether considering your aging loved one’s needs or your own, taking a proactive approach can resolve conflicts among family members even before they arise. After all, the focus of your time should be enjoying quality time together. To accomplish this, clearing lines of communication and having an open conversation that includes close family members is key. Having all siblings participate will help the family share responsibility and understand each other’s limitations should your parents need assistance in the future. While every family’s and individual’s needs will vary, here are important issues to start discussing together:

Level of Care: Understanding your parents’ current health status will help guide your conversations and decisions moving forward. Whether your parents are still spry or they require assistance on a daily basis, they still have opinions on their needs and wants. Don’t forget that. These early conversations are meant to engage them to start thinking about the heavy questions ahead, not to dictate how their lives will be. Put together a caregiving plan with your family to help set expectations as they continue to require more and more assistance. Is there a family member with whom your parents are comfortable with, who can and wants to care for them? Is that person you? Does a hired nurse need to be factored into the current or future budget? Setting an expectation for caregiving when your parents are no longer able to care for themselves will alleviate future feelings of abandonment or confusion. If you or a family member will be taking on that role, make sure you understand the commitment needed by discussing the needed care with both your parents and their doctor. When appropriate, accompanying your parents to their doctor’s appointments may be a good opportunity to voice your own concerns and ask your own questions about the best options for your specific parents’ situations. Setting up a power of attorney or “surrogate” for health care decisions may also be helpful. Take a look at AARP’s 12 Resources Every Caregiver Should Know About.

Money Management: Know who your parents’ CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional is and find out if your parents have an established budget that will accommodate current and future needs. If your parents have not been utilizing a fee-only financial planner, Tobias Financial Advisors is adept at assessing the needs of aging couples and individuals to ensure they continue to live comfortably and protected. Find out if your parents have drafted estate documents and if so, identify who they’ve selected as power of attorney. Assisting your parents organize their financial lives including the minutiae of monthly bill paying, will help ensure they continue to receive the services they need to continue to make life meaningful and comfortable. Refer to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Guide for Managing Someone Else’s Money.

Housing: More often than not, living in one’s own home is the most desirable situation as it connects us with meaningful memories and has sentimental value on top of comfort. However, once you’ve understood the scope of care and budget that your parents need in order to maintain their desired lifestyle and comfort, addressing their living conditions is next on the list. There are numerous reasons why your parents’ living conditions in their current home may not be suitable or the best option for them in the future. Multi-level homes may prove to be a challenge, increasing the risk of injury if one or more parents’ footing becomes unreliable. Perhaps it’s just too much house to clean. This doesn’t mean you just move them in with you or into assisted living right away, but it does mean the family needs to discuss the best possible move if their current home does not satisfy your parents’ needs. If your parents intend on staying where they are, go through a home safety checklist like this one or this one from AARP.

Transportation: Giving up the privilege of driving may be the most contentious issue as driving is often tied to the feeling of independence. The earlier you have this conversation with your parents the better. Discussing the warning signs with them, as well as their feelings, and setting up a mode of transportation they’ll be comfortable with, will help them transition smoothly when the time actually comes. Teach them how to use ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft before they need to retire their driver’s license and encourage them to use them even if they are capable of driving. The University of Florida has put together a Resource Center that includes a driving fitness screening and links to Safe and Mobile Seniors coalition.

Transparency and Documentation: Don’t rely on memory to preserve these conversations and agreements. Document these conversations as detailed as you can, as well as put down your parents’ wishes in writing, dated with their signatures and pertinent parties. Documenting these decisions prior to the need arising will help alleviate conflict and confusion as to what do next. This will ultimately protect you as well. On top of your own documentation, make sure to sit down with your parents and check that their important paperwork is in a safe but accessible place. Estate documents, deeds to all property, insurance information, financial advisor information, bank and retirement account information, etc. should all be organized before an emergency arises.

These conversations may feel awkward to start but having them when your aging parents are still independent will help both of you handle changes in health and mobility with grace down the road. The family as a whole will have the opportunity to anticipate and accept changes more calmly when they do happen because there’s a clear, detailed plan in place.

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