Watching a parent or other loved one grow older can be an affirmation of our independence. However, when you notice aging taking a toll on your parent, it becomes very difficult to step in and assist. The children resist becoming the “parent” to obtain information about finances, estate planning, long term care and end of life issues and parents resist help, viewing it as “butting in” or trying to preserve an inheritance.
The best time for children to approach parents and other loved ones is while both parents are alive and healthy. Children need to remember that there is often a great difference in money philosophy between them and their Depression-era parents. Do not argue, do not insist, but be sure to provide information, forms and support. Seniors need time to review and digest any changes they wish to make.
A family meeting can move the topic of care planning to a more focused discussion that can lead to a plan. Here is a checklist for planning your family meeting:
• Determine the family members that should be involved directly or indirectly in decision making. This may include extended family members, close friends or paid caregivers. Always include the person if he/she is capable of taking part in any decision making.
• Consider including an independent third party to play the role of mediator. This could be a minister or other member of the clergy, a social worker or case manager.
• If necessary, find a neutral place to hold the meeting.
• Prepare an agenda to help you stay focused. It may include: a medical update; sharing of feelings about the illness and care giving; daily care giving needs; financial concerns; who will make decisions; what support role each person will play; what support the primary caregiver needs; and next steps moving forward.
Try to obtain information about Social Security and pension benefits and whether there are other financial benefits available, like Medicaid. In addition, discuss the possibility of long-term care insurance. Veteran’s benefits may be available to an ill veteran or to the surviving spouse of a veteran.
Make sure parents have the necessary estate planning documents in place: a last will and testament, durable financial power of attorney, durable health care power of attorney, living will declaration and perhaps a trust agreement. Find out where these documents are located, along with financial records, tax records, banking records, and life and health insurance policies.
The goal of any discussion is to promote sharing of information, providing support, and helping to plan, not to scare parents into taking steps they are not comfortable with. An additional benefit is that once you take care of your parent, you will know how to take care of yourself as well, to ease the transition for your own children and loved ones.
Laurie G. Steiner is a member of the law firm of Solomon, Steiner & Peck, Ltd. in Mayfield Heights.
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