Caring for aging parents can be an extremely emotional proposition, and money can certainly complicate the situation. In this installment of our Healthy Aging Month Series, we share some tips on how to avoid the many financial pitfalls that come along with caregiving for aging parents.
How to Discuss Finances With an Elder Loved One
A major challenge in discussing money with aging parents often has nothing to do with their declining mental health. Even when completely healthy, today’s seniors see the topic of finance 1 as an extremely private one. It’s nearly impossible to change the mind of someone who has held a certain value for so long, so be sure to constantly remind them that you’re here to help and be supportive and not to take advantage.
The best way to begin a discussion with aging parents about finances is respectfully and delicately 2. Try to avoid rhetoric that makes it seem like you’re being a parent to your own parent. Make it an open conversation instead of a one-sided demand.
Offering to assist or help with finances will net better results than demanding to take over their finances completely. This will not only give you an assessment of the financial issues your loved ones are experiencing in the present, but will also give you insight into possible financial trouble they’ll experience in the future. Surprises or preventable unforeseen circumstances often prove to be the most costly.
Handling Diminished Brain Health
A decline in brain health is the main factor that contributes to financial issues amongst aging parents and their families. A parent with dementia may not only forget to pay bills, but they could also lack the mental faculties to know what bills they have (and which financial institutions they owe money to). It can be difficult to handle the behavioral changes associated with caring for a parent with dementia, but is crucial to maintaining your loved one’s financial well-being.
Power of Attorney
Power of attorney is when a person is given legal authority to act and make legal and financial decisions for another. If your aging parent’s mental health is regressing toward the point of incompetence, you must ensure they sign away power of attorney before they’re unable to make decisions. This is particularly important with seniors who are at-risk for health issues like severe dementia and strokes. The preferred scenario is to be able to speak with your parent so they have input on who is given power of attorney. Oftentimes, the ideal candidate is a trustworthy family member close with the senior, who’s aware of their interests or a compassionate lawyer with whom the family has familiarity.
If you wait too long to assign power of attorney and your parent becomes mentally incapacitated, legal battles between family members could ensue which would exacerbate the stress and emotions of an already difficult time.
Open Up a Discourse With Relevant Parties
It’s vital to remain in touch with family, friends, and caregivers. These are the people who spend the most time with your aging loved ones, and therefore will in all likelihood see warning signs and come across pertinent information before you do. Furthermore, it’s important to stay in touch with siblings and family members so everyone is equally informed on any health and/or financial decision concerning your loved one.
In addition to those close with your parent, get in touch with individuals that they’ve associated with professionally. Money managers, lawyers, coworkers, and insurance agents 3 will all have information you may need while navigating through the financial issues of your aging parents.
Financial Categories to Discuss
Now that you’ve read through all the background information, this article will conclude with a list of the exact categories to become familiar with in regards to your aging parent’s finances.
Income and Expenses
Find out how much money your parent has put away, how much money is still coming in, and calculate the costs of their regular expenses combined with how much they’re spending on medical care. Additionally, you should also be aware of any debt and assets your parent possesses.
Assisted Care Communities
If you decide to enter your elder family member into a nursing home, be careful with who takes on the financial responsibility of that decision. 4 Many assisted living communities will try to get you to pay for your parent’s stay, but these bills can reach totals in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. If your parents can’t afford this type of care, ask if programs like Medicaid and Medicare are viable options.
The first part of estate planning is deciding where the deceased’s assets go when they eventually pass away. The second part of estate planning is deciding how to choose an estate planning attorney and who power of attorney goes to in case the senior becomes disabled.
While a living will encompasses far more than finances, it is an extremely important document to have in place. 5 This will prevent emotional trauma amongst family members if and when the time comes to decide whether or not the parent would like to be resuscitated.
If a health crisis occurs, information and proof of facts will be the best tools in your arsenal. Work with your aging loved one to (at the very least) have access to and preferably have paper or electronic copies of financial records, bank & brokerage accounts, legal documents, bills, and passwords. The more information you have documented, the less issues you will face down the road.