Planning for the financial and medical needs of aging parents—and, yikes, sometimes still investing in your college-bound kids while building your own retirement nest—can be challenging, to say the least. Approaching this touchy subject is tough enough. But planning and healthcare experts advise against waiting until there’s a financial or medical emergency to take up the talk with your parents and other aging relatives about long-term care planning. There’s an upside for daring to go there (and including all siblings and grandchildren of appropriate age in those discussions): much of this planning can help set the stage for your own long-term financial needs.
Ben Watson, an instructor and market commentator for TD Ameritrade education affiliate Investools®, interviewed Elizabeth O’Brien, retirement healthcare reporter at MarketWatch.com, for a few pointers on the importance of having a plan.
Here’s a snapshot of the interview.
Ben and Elizabeth agree that the first step is finding a non-stressful time to sit down. Geriatric experts suggest bringing up the topic anecdotally. For instance, if a friend or neighbor is experiencing a long-term care issue, use that example to open the door to discuss your own parents’ wishes.
For starters, it’s important to understand how your parents visualize a retirement that could last 30 years. Where would they like to live? Would they like to age at home? Do they expect to move in with you? Are they comfortable with assisted-living facilities and would, in fact, like to conduct their own research into the benefits and costs of these facilities and pick their own?
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There’s more: Do they have a will? Separate financial power-of-attorney and healthcare power-of-attorney? What resources are available? A retirement plan? Long-term care insurance? (And, Ben notes: these are the relevant questions to ask yourself about your own retirement plan.)
It’s clear that one of the biggest challenges crops up when siblings don’t see eye-to-eye on parental care. Experts advise a division of responsibilities so that no one person shoulders all of the planning and care and no one feels shut out of the decision-making involving their loved one. For instance, care typically lands with the adult child who lives closest to the aging parent. Today, options like online bill pay mean that long-distance relatives can play a role in helping with family finances.
Sometimes it’s hard to recognize when the climate for “the talk” has shifted from casual to a little more urgent. Elizabeth recalls her column that featured the experience of one woman opening her otherwise lucid mother’s front closet to find bags of unopened mail. A transition to taking over some of the financial and care responsibility from your parents might begin with framing the situation as short term. You convey that the aim is to help them “get back on their feet” or “over this hump.”
The key is a gentle approach. Each family is different and you may not get your desired response on the first attempt. Remember, it’s a process. Dementia can take away a parent’s ability to know that there is a problem. Their reluctance to accept help might be more than just stubbornness to defend their independence; they may not realize there’s been a change. But, importantly, they may be sensitive to shifting any burden onto their children. This reinforces the importance of sibling cooperation. Families are complex. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Everyone may not be on the same page regarding mom and dad’s degree of need. Remember, geriatric care managers can mediate, and sometimes a third party can help preserve family relationships.
Watch the Full Webcast
Listen for more info on common Medicare misconceptions, plus which power-of-attorney documents and other paperwork you should get in order. And, perhaps most importantly, communication tips.