By Megan Renart
Caring for aging or elderly parents isn’t a new trend, but it is growing at an accelerated rate. According to the National Council on Aging, the baby boomer generation is retiring at the rate of 10,000 people per day.
While it’s not a conversation anyone is eager to have, experts agree that the earlier you talk to your folks about their intentions for the future, the better. It can actually be a smooth, harmonious process.
It all comes down to two factors: sensitivity and organization.
Your parents are used to living their lives on their own terms, and for much of their lives have even managed others’ lives—yours and maybe your siblings’—quite successfully. Keep this in mind while you have your series of talks. (Yes, talks—this likely won’t be a one-time conversation.)
Approach the topic from the position that you are looking to understand their desires for their retirement, and that you also want to be able to help in the event of a medical emergency or unexpected loss. You can preface it by saying, “You’ve taught me the best you can, and I want everyone in our family to have the best care, so I’m being proactive. If anything were to happen, would you want me to be prepared or unprepared?” More than likely, the answer will be a resounding “prepared”!
The biggest takeaway is understanding the value of having a realistic plan in place so that you don’t have to scramble for money, or care, or paperwork at the very last minute. Robert Steen, USAA advice director for Retirement and Complex Financial Planning, suggests setting up a conversation—or several—to say, “Mom, Dad, who do you want taking care of you? If you were to need a certain type of long-term care, what kind of care do you want? Is there a plan in place in terms of resources that can cover the costs?”
And, says Steen, organizing your conversation to address what, where, who, when and why can help ensure peace of mind—at least down the road, because right now it probably feels anything but peaceful to discuss matters like this. It’s natural to experience discomfort during these kinds of talks!
What: What assets do your parents have? This includes money in cash, checking accounts, savings, investments, businesses and real estate. Do they own a home or more than one residence? Do they run a business?
Let your mom and dad know that you would like to help keep things running if they are suddenly unable to do so, which is why you need to know now what will need your attention in the future. You can say, “It might come across as being nosy, but these are things I need to know.”
Where: Is there paperwork involved with your parents’ assets/financials? Where do they keep it – and if it’s online, what are the passwords?
Who: Find out who your parents envision fulfilling certain roles in case they are incapacitated. This allows you to work out any potential kinks. Again, you might be surprised to learn that they are counting on you or a sibling to take care of them! Ask:
- Who do you intend to take care of your home/and or business?
- Who do you want to take care of you if you’re incapacitated? An assisted senior living facility? Home health aides? Family members?
- Who will take care of any financial matters? Are there legal documents appointing proxies? People usually associate legal documents with a will – but that’s for dying, not living. So it’s essential to figure out what your parents have and who will take care of it if, for example, they need to move or make renovations to their home. You’ll want to find out who the power of attorney is in your family; if it hasn’t been designated yet, now is the time.
When: Aside from an unexpected situation that might render your parent or parents in need of specific, cognitive, around-the-clock care, there’s likely time to think about next steps. Find out if your parents would like to move to a smaller place, and if they have a timeline in mind.
Why: Some interesting answers might pop up. You might discover, for instance, that your parents’ plan is simply to move in with you when the time comes. If so, it’s appropriate to inquire why, so that you can help guide the plan of action.
Your mom or dad might insist that they want a family member to take care of them, even if he or she lives out of state. Finding out the reasoning behind these types of desires can give the entire family some clarity.
You might not get answers right away – and don’t push for getting them in your first conversation. Your parents might not have even considered some of these thought-provoking questions you’re asking, and they will likely need days, weeks or even months to let everything marinate.
A no could turn into a yes in the span of a day or a month, so don’t be too disheartened if initial talks don’t go as well as you hoped.
If your parents ultimately decide to stay in their own home, there may come a time when some alterations need to be made to the interior of the house. If one or both were no longer able to navigate stairs, a ground-floor room might need to be converted into a bedroom. Doors may need to be widened to handle walkers or wheelchairs. Bathtubs may need to be removed to accommodate an accessible toilet and shower. Ramps and handrails might need to be installed.
The average cost for modifications to a house for it to become “elderly friendly” can start at around $60,000 and go up from there.
If you have siblings, divvy up tasks so that things don’t get too overwhelming. One of you can check on costs for local health care providers or procure the legal documents. Someone else can get the finances figured out.
You have plenty of options for storage. For papers, keep everything in an accordion file, with legal documents under “L” and medical information under “M” (or “D” for doctor). For digital files, you can zap copies of documents onto a portable zip drive so that you have access to essential information if something unexpected happens while you’re traveling or away from home.
On their own, money, personalities or feelings can complicate any topic. But in combination, it can make things downright difficult. Preparing and planning together is your best bet for a successful future for your family.
Robert Steen, CFP®, MBA is the USAA enterprise advice director for retirement and complex financial planning at USAA. Robert serves as the advice expert on retirement and complex planning topics such as maximizing retirement savings, establishing a retirement income plan, managing financial needs during retirement, estate/trust/inheritance tax planning, charitable gifting, and distribution of assets.
Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. owns the certification marks CFP® and CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ in the United States, which it awards to individuals who successfully complete the CFP Board’s initial and ongoing certification requirements.
253871 - 0818