Money and mortality are generally taboo topics for a child to talk about with their aging parents, but understanding your parents’ financial condition enables you to help them in any way you can, and having these uncomfortable conversations now rather than later is better for everyone involved. Getting your aging parents to talk about money now, regardless of their financial situation, will make things easier later.
Start off with one of these conversation openers based on your aging parents’ apparent point of view. Check your finances — you want to be prepared if the conversation turns to your situation — assemble your support group (spouses and siblings are good places to start) and start chatting.
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4 ways to address senior care
1. If your aging parents are well-off
They will likely have done financial and estate planning already. You should, however, get an update. When bringing up the subject, use your age as a guide.
“I have a 40/70 rule, which means if you’re 40 or your parents are 70,” says Jody Gastfriend, vice president of elder care at Care.com and author of “My Parent’s Keeper.” “The sooner, though, the better. When my father acquired dementia, I realized it is never too early to begin.”
Open the discussion by expressing your need for their advice to make it feel less intimidating and intrusive. Then go to your questions: What do they consider to be the finest financial practices? What papers (long-term care insurance, living will, financial power of attorney) have they completed? What are their feelings about in-home care vs. assisted living, and how do they intend to fund their lifestyle over time? Discover how to contact their lawyer or financial planner, as well as the whereabouts of their estate-planning paperwork.
2. If everything appears to be okay
When calm, clear minds rule, use the opportunity to become organized. You can begin the dialogue with: “I want to be helpful in the future. Therefore, I need to acquire knowledge now, while life is nice.” Make it clear you’re not trying to jeopardize their independence. You just want to be ready in case anything unexpected happens.
Determine where your parents keep key bank papers and create an “In Case of Emergency” file; scan the material and share it with your siblings. While you’re at it, evaluate if your aging parents’ finances need to be streamlined. Perhaps they can merge accounts to make them easier to handle. Subscriptions and spending may be tracked in one place using a budgeting program like Truebill or Clarity Money. Request that your parents sign up and provide your login information so you can check in as needed.
3. If a parent becomes unwell
As difficult as it is, you must start talking about it right now. Make sure your parent has advance-care directives in place and get them to sign financial and medical power of attorney paperwork, which will give you (or another family member) the authority to manage the money and health-care choices that will, unfortunately, come fast and furious.
Strive for a mix of honesty and compassion if your parent has a diagnosis, but is still active and intellectually healthy. “You don’t have to be the boss,” Gastfriend explains. “That might give your parent the impression that their privileges are being revoked.”
In any case, examine your long-term care choices and create a budget: An assisted-living facility costs an average of US$54,000 per year, whereas in-home care costs US$27 per hour. “Eldercare is a huge cost, and most people aren’t wealthy enough to fund it themselves for years,” Gastfriend says.
4. If your family is spread out
Your mother may be in Florida, you may be in Indiana, and your brother may be in Vermont visiting his in-laws. Everyone should be on the same page regarding their aging parents’ expectations. Determine whether you or a sibling will start the conversation, and then state unequivocally that you are there for your parents despite the hundreds of miles by which you may be separated.
Ask them to share their long-term plans for their finances and day-to-day care. Your family may also consider hiring a senior-care expert to assess safety issues in your aging parents’ home, advocate for them, and mediate family discussions. An initial consultation can range from US$300 to US$800, and additional services can cost between US$100 and US$250 per hour. Always stay in the loop, and don’t be shy about passing the mom-and-Dad baton to a sibling if your aging parents are avoiding the conversation. Sometimes, all it takes is another voice to get people to listen. It can be frustrating, but it just might do the trick.