Watching a parent or other loved one grow older can be an affirmation of our own 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. Often, finances were never discussed in the past and the subject is taboo.
Often a legal and financial conversation does not take place until a crisis like a spouse's death occurs, which may be too late. The best time for children to approach parents and other loved ones is while both parents are alive and healthy. Up-front, frank discussions, while difficult, are necessary to avoid hasty improper decisions or trouble later. 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.
When a child approaches a parent about these issues, he or she should slide into it gently. Perhaps tell your parent that you have been thinking about estate planning or long term care insurance for yourself and ask for the parent's advice. Or, tell about a friend who had to step in and become a care giver for a parent and what issues were raised. A series of conversations delving deeper and deeper would be beneficial. The goal of these conversations would be to obtain information and make suggestions, not try to force changes.
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.
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.
There are a number of Internet web sites that can help locate federal, state and even community based services and benefits available. The National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, nationally or through the local agencies, can provide additional information to help facilitate this type of discussion. They can also help locate service and benefits available for seniors. Elder law attorneys and financial consultants can also provide legal and/or financial information and support.
The goal of any discussion is to promote sharing of information, providing support, and planning, 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.