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Never Too Early to Have the Long-Term Care Talk with Your Parents

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March 1, 2017
Pinball: Long-term care and your aging parents; time to have the talk

Did your parents have the birds-and-the-bees talk with you when you were younger? Remember how uncomfortable it was? How you cringed at every sentence? Get ready to do it again. Only this time, the roles are reversed and you’re having “the talk” with your parents. No, it’s not about that; it’s about how they plan to spend (and pay for) the rest of their lives.

It’s a conversation every person with an aging parent should have, and, sadly, few of us have had it, according to Genworth Life Insurance Co. In a recent poll, Genworth found that only 11% of us have had this chat with our parents or in-laws.

Worse yet, some 57% of consumers have not talked to anyone about the potential need for long-term care. But Genworth notes that between 50% and 70% of those age 65 and older today will need long-term care services and support at some point. That could range from weekly grocery shopping to helping a parent get dressed in the morning to all-day, every-day care needs.

Before the Talk, the Questions

Do you know whether your parents have long-term care insurance? Do you know what it covers and how to access it? What about their wishes as they age? Where do they want to live? Do they expect that you or another family member will take care of them? Would they feel unloved if you didn’t or couldn’t?

What about their finances, another tricky subject to tackle? Are they financially secure? Do they carry a debt load, such as a mortgage, credit card, or auto loans? What is their Social Security strategy? What other sources of income do they have? Do they have a will in place? How about a power of attorney? Where are the important documents stored?

Avoiding the Issue Seems to Be the Norm 

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), in general, parents—people—don’t want to think about the end of their lives and don’t plan for it until it’s thrust upon them. HHS studies revealed that “most Americans underestimate the risk of developing a disability and needing long-term services and support.” It estimates that 52% of those turning 65 today will develop a disability that requires long-term care and services, which will cost, on average, $138,000. About one in six, or 17%, will pay at least $100,000 out of pocket.

That hefty price tag should underscore the need to have the talk with your parents.

The Talk Dos and Don’ts

AARP recommends being strategic and opportunistic about starting the conversation.

  • It doesn’t have to be a long, sit-down discussion. Instead, you can use a situation, like failing eyesight, to start a chat about health and medical needs and insurance.
  • If a parent is having a tough time tackling stairs, use that as an entry point to talk about housing wishes.
  • If you notice that the refrigerator isn’t terribly full, that may be a time to talk about everyday needs and expenses.

AARP also offers some tips on how to make the most of the conversation. It’s important not to come on too strong, as doing so may cause them to shut down.

            • Try not to anticipate what your parents may say or how they will react, but instead focus on listening.
            • Expect that they may be angry or embarrassed to have such a conversation.
            • Phrase your concerns as questions; avoid telling your parents what they should do.
            • Be straightforward, in a kind way, about facts, such as if their driving reactions aren’t as quick as they used to be or their memory isn’t the same; don’t hide negative information.
            • If they still won’t talk with you, consider bringing in a trusted friend or professional, such as an attorney, a financial planner, or a social-services expert.

            Finally, remember that it’s best to have the talk long before these issues need to be addressed. Long-term care insurance, for example, is much cheaper to get for younger, healthier people than it is for those who may be closer to really needing it. And putting a plan in place can help put everyone at ease.

            Hands-On Retirement Planning

            Retirement planning isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it proposition. Your plans take thoughtful care and the help of professionals.