We celebrate our moms and dads this month and next. The parents who so tirelessly supported us and became our role models for our own parenthood. As members of the sandwich generation – a demographic age group in our mid-30s to 50s- today we are celebrating both raising our own families as well, and soon, if not already, caring for our aging parents. Just last week my husband and I had dinner with friends when one of them shared that his father-in-law crashed his car onto his neighbor’s lawn and had no recollection of the incident. Thankfully he escaped with only minor scrapes and bruises and a bill for landscaping repairs.
That opened a flood gate of stories of parents forgetting their medication, sharing the same story 3 times, noticeable cognitive decline, mood changes and more. We need to face the inevitable that sooner or later, our parents may need assistance. Sometimes the need is gradual, but often, health declines happen quickly, and catch us by surprise. We scramble to get answers to questions we didn’t even know existed or where to find them. This is added stress to your already busy life. Who makes healthcare decisions? Who makes financial decisions? Are the finances in place to pay for what’s needed? Do we know if legal safeguards are in place for decisions about their care and estate? What happens when staying in the home is not an option? Do you know mom and dad’s wishes?
You certainly don’t want to be making these very important decisions in crisis mode if you can avoid it. Taking care of a parent can be challenging, stressful, and complex. It could impact your family, your job, your finances, and your health. To ensure the best care for your loved ones, you need to create a Caregiving Plan. This plan provides a framework for discussing with your parents all the “what ifs” that may unfold in the future. It outlines your loved one’s wishes and priorities, it assesses their medical, financial, legal and personal needs. And then it organizes all the resources and information that are available to your family.
Here are 5 things you need to do to create a Caregiving Plan:
- Start the conversation
The conversation about what’s important to your parents is more than one exchange. It’s a continuous dialogue as they grow older and their priorities shift. These conversations are never easy for either party. Try starting in a casual setting, such as over a meal or on a walk. Perhaps say, “Mom, I know this isn’t easy to talk about, but I just want to have a discussion about what’s important to you and what you might want should you become ill.” Your best approach is to try to use open ended questions, encouraging your parent to talk instead of answering your questions. Be sensitive and open to what they share.
- Access Medical Needs
A good baseline in assessing your loved one’s health and medical needs is to review their ability to perform daily living activities. Do they need help with eating, bathing, dressing or going to the bathroom? Or being transferred from the bed to a chair? Based on this review, you may have more clarity on how best to assist them. Depending on your situation, your options could include a family member helping out as needed or an outside hired helper, health aide or visiting nurse. You can coordinate help on your own or seek assistance from an Elder Care Manager or Geriatric Care Specialist who already has experience handling these issues.
- Review Finances
Whether your loved one’s medical needs are immediate or in the future, it’s important to be aware of their finances. You should know their sources of income, recurring expenses, and assets and liabilities. You should also review their Medicare related policies, any long-term care insurance and any cash value life insurance policies that might help pay for medical expenses and supportive care services. You should also be sure you know the professionals in their lives, who they may have worked with such as an accountant, attorney, and financial advisor. A reasonable understanding of finances will give you a sense of whether additional financial assistance may be needed in the future.
- Prepare Legal Documents
It is also important to have the proper legal documents up to date and in place so you can help when needed. These include a Durable Power of Attorney (POA), Health Care Power of Attorney, healthcare directive, and Will. The health care power of attorney and durable power of attorney should be a priority for caregiving purposes. The health care directive allows your loved one to name a trusted person to make medical decisions for them on their behalf should they become incapacitated, and the durable power of attorney allows you to “step into their shoes” for most other legal and financial matters in their life if necessary.
- Assemble Your Team
We’ve all heard the saying, “it takes a village,” when it comes to raising your kids. The same goes for taking care of your parents. First, you probably need to include others in your family. Decide who is going to be the primary coordinator and divide up the responsibilities. Be mindful of matching the skill sets of sibling/family members to the task. Your team may also include professional services or advisors at varying times such as a geriatric care manager, in-home aide, financial advisor, accountant, and attorney.
Taking care of aging parents is not easy. By proactively creating a caregiving plan, you will have a road map of their desires. Creating an actual document or even a virtual vault of their important information will allow you to proceed with more confidence when the time comes. Knowing you also took the time to get input from your parents should provide you and your family with the comfort that you’re making informed decisions regarding what is most important to them.
By, Elaine Lee, CFP®
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