If you are faced with a sudden care need for your parents, there may be a moment of panic and the question, “What do I do now?” This can be an overwhelming time because care needs are highly unpredictable and are unique to each family. It is essential to understand your parents’ goals for their future and honestly evaluate what role you can best serve in the care of your parents as they age. Not everyone is suited to be the primary caregiver, and this may not be the role your parents want you to serve. Following are a few questions to prompt thought and discussion for you and your family in advance of issues.
Have your parents shared their goals for their desired future or have they given you the message that this is none of your business? Some parents are extremely private about any potential changes, including their finances and estate plans. Beginning discussions with your parents in advance of any issues can help keep them from being confrontational and give them the widest range of choices. If they are unwilling to share with you, it may require that you involve an unbiased third party to assist them with these issues rather than assisting them directly. This option allows your parents to remain in the driver’s seat when making decisions about their future, which has proven to be the best course of action for many families.
Do your parents have Long-Term Care (LTC) insurance or are they able to self-fund any significant care need? If they don’t have LTC coverage, are they medically able to obtain it but possibly need their adult children to shoulder the costs of coverage? If your parents aren’t working with a Financial Advisor, they may not understand the impact a care need could have on their financial resources. If they do have an advisor, it is critical this person is well-versed in later life issues so they can provide real assistance to your parents in advance of issues. It is also important to educate yourself about care costs and the alternatives, and remember to always keep your parents’ best interests as the primary goal.
Do your parents live in a community where ample resources exist to assist them as they age? Your parents may wish to age in their home, but some small or remote locations may not have local resources to enable them to remain in their home and therefore force them to move at some point. They may also not fully understand the probable evolution of their aging and the reality that their plan to stay in place may not be failsafe. Many communities have service providers for in-home assistance, meals, drivers, care advocates or even skilled nursing. Retirement communities with a variety of pricing options and ownership structures may also be a viable option for your parents.
If you have siblings, have you discussed everyone’s expectations for assisting your parents, as well as who is capable of taking on this additional care responsibility? One sibling may assume the “local” child will bear the burden of care. However, this person may be the least able to make both the time and financial commitment to care for your parents. It is critical that open family discussions take place in advance to help flesh out and resolve any unrealistic expectations.
Does it make more sense for you to be the caregiver or the resource coordinator for your parents? Not only does caregiving for a parent involve a significant time commitment, it also requires an honest evaluation of the strength of your relationship with that parent. It is also typically a financial commitment, as most caregivers have contributed financially to their parent’s care or made sacrifices at work to care for a loved one. It will also impact your nuclear family, both positively and negatively, so you should consider what your spouse and children can handle as well.
Whatever your current circumstance with your parents, there are many things to consider and discuss prior to the occurrence of a care need. Whether you take on the role of primary caregiver to an aging parent or you act as chief resource coordinator, that role will be a critical one for both you and your parents. Take the time to begin talking now, before a need arises and if need be, bring in a trusted third party to assist in the discussions. A trusted advisor can help you maintain a healthy relationship with your parents, while giving you comfort knowing the proper discussions are taking place and plans are being made to ensure they are safe, happy, and well cared for in their later years. The “right” answer will look different for every family, but proactively discussing the “what-ifs” in advance of a need will make it easier for everyone, whether you ultimately provide their care or organize and oversee the caregivers.