Tips on creating a clear care plan for your loved one
The most important thing in planning? Do so in advance. We’re very good at saving for college, planning for mortgage and tax payments, investing in an IRA, but when it comes to planning for the care of an aging loved one, too often we don’t have a plan until there is a problem. If our parents are elderly, but healthy and are still living independently, we tend to not worry, but realistically that reality could change overnight with a medical emergency and the need for long-term care, or a sudden, unexpected death.
Putting together a caregiving plan for your loved ones and other family members now, versus later, can eliminate problems at home and at work in the future, if and when a once-independent parent needs more consistent care. In the middle of an emergency, we don’t always make the best decisions, let alone the decisions our parents may want; there can also be a lot of family tension and financial strain. With a plan in place this stress can be mitigated.
Most importantly, with advance planning, parents can decide their future while they can. They can choose what they want, where they want to be. They are in fact the most affected by a crisis so we need to know – in advance – what their wishes and priorities are. They need to be an integral part of the planning process. Before it’s too late. No one likes the idea of having no control over their future.
Planning Ahead for Parental Care
AARP has one of the best brochures, available online, called “Prepare to Care.” 1 It outlines five steps, and includes worksheets, sample conversations with tips on
how to tackle difficult conversations around care, as well as help with needs assessment.
- Prepare to talk. This is a planning session for the adult children before approaching parents. Don’t go in with any preconceived notions of what’s best for your parents; they need to tell you, not you telling them. You just need to be prepared for the conversation and to present a loving and united front.
- Form a team. The most important members of your team are your parents; or those who will be receiving care. If they are still mentally and physically competent, they need to be involved and play a significant role in this team conversation. Engage family members (even those who are likely to be, or are, contentious) and close friends; a personal estate attorney and your family accountant may also be helpful in helping to plan. One family member should be the designated team leader and everything should be openly communicated.
- Assess future needs & available resources. While this can be difficult when all systems are still “go”, you and your parents need to anticipate future needs and they need to clearly define their priorities – where they want to live, what their finances can afford, etc. Take stock of the financial resources available, such as pensions, social security, and personal investments, which can all help if needed. In addition to financial resources, consider the family and community resources available to meet possible future needs. Is there a nearby, college-aged relative who could spend a few hours a day helping an aging relative? Are there assisted living facilities in your area that your parents might consider? Many of them today offer all stages of care in one housing complex, from independent living in an apartment with all the amenities, to more assisted living with meals provided in a dining room, to skilled nursing. Are there local in-home caregiving providers as an alternative for parents who don’t wish to move?
- Make a plan. This is a general summary, a blueprint for future action and should be put in writing. Think about planning for the last stages of life, not the end of life. If there is an unexpected health event, do you have a household and financial management back up plan? If your father has been paying all the bills and managing family investments, who will do so if he can’t? Make sure your parents have health care directives, living wills, trusts, power of attorney documents all in place. The last thing you want is a property going into probate and getting tied up in the courts. Figure out if all siblings are going to share elder care costs equally, or if some who may not have the means can contribute in other ways, like arranging medical appointments and running errands. No one wants sibling rivalry and damaged relationships.
- Take action. Hopefully your plan will not have to put into action for many years, but you will have some peace of mind knowing the tools are in place when it’s needed.
Caring for an Aging Parent
Two final messages on aging parental care: financial planning is essential, as is making your parents a part of the process (sooner versus later) and respecting their wishes as best you can.
One of the biggest impacts can be the financial burden while caring for aging parents – for them and for you. Paying for unexpected health costs, nursing home stays, or long-term care can wipe out a senior’s savings in a matter of months.
Nursing home costs can be astronomical. A new study from insurance giant Genworth Financial found that a private room in a nursing home averages out to $267 per day or $8,121 a month, up 5.5 percent from the year before. 2 Semi-private rooms are not far behind, at $7,148 a month on average. Overall, long-term care costs rose by 4.5 percent from 2016 to 2017, according to Genworth.
Experts agree that it is important to start thinking about caregiving costs now. Start saving and accruing resources now, take out affordable insurance policies while you can, and plan ahead for a thoughtful drawdown of assets.
Thinking through one’s wishes, preferences, and values is no small thing. Put yourself in your parent’s shoes. Make sure your parents have the tools they need to make wise decisions and yes, they should feel it is their decision, not yours.