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What to do when your parents begin aging
Many adult children will one day take on the responsibility for the health and finances of their parents, becoming caregivers for the people who once took care of them. AARP estimates that more than 40 million people in the U.S. are already serving as unpaid caregivers, most often for an aging parent or a grandparent.1
If you’re becoming a caregiver to a parent, here are some things to consider.
Have the Caregiving Conversation Early
As a caregiver, you’ll need to open up sensitive topics, often delving into details of your parents financial and personal lives you’ve never discussed at all. And because it is best to have such conversations under the least stressful circumstances possible, it is important to be proactive rather than wait for a crisis. If your parents are willing to talk about caregiving options while they are still relatively young and in good health, take them up on it and be as honest, upfront, and as empathetic as possible.
Also, bring in all family members who will be involved. No one likes surprises, and if everyone understands their role ahead of time things are more likely to run smoothly.
The earlier you and your family talk about how to cover caregiving—whether via home equity, investments, or paying for care—the more choice and control your family has.
Identify the Financial Resources That Are Available
Plan to meet with your parents’ financial advisors (if they have them) and walk through the resources on hand and potential future needs. Once these details have been sorted out, consulting with estate or elder law attorneys is also important.
Be sure to cover these important bases:
Secure your parents’ consent in advance. You’ll need permission for investments, insurance decisions, and so on to be shared by their financial advisor. For example, are your parents’ life insurance policies up to date? Is there an acceleration of benefits option to pay for needed care if necessary?
Financial Power of Attorney. Determine who will have the authority to act on your parents’ behalf for financial matters.
Healthcare Power of Attorney. Designate someone to speak for your parents on healthcare matters if they are unable to speak for themselves. This role is separate from the financial power of attorney and does not have to be the same person.
Springing Power of Attorney. In some cases, it may be necessary to become your parents’ legal guardian, making it easier to make housing and health decisions for them.
Become authorized as a signer at their bank. If you have to take over paying your parents’ bills, having this authorization can facilitate any checks you have to write or online payments you may need to make.
Update wills and trusts. Keep your parents’ beneficiary designations up to date as circumstances change in later life. Children also should know the location of important files along with safe deposit boxes and their combinations.
Pay Attention to Changes in Health Condition
The three most common symptoms of declining independence include health issues, cognitive decline, and the development or worsening of chronic diseases.
The key here is vigilance. Watch for decreased physical ability in vision and hearing, mobility, or balance. These issues can potentially be addressed with proper support and assistive devices such as hearing aids or walkers. (Be aware, however, that Medicare won’t necessarily cover certain devices and some out-of-pocket payments may be required. In the case of hearing aids, for example, the costs can be significant.)
Be on guard for signs of cognitive decline—short-term memory loss can be an early indicator of dementia, for example. Scratches or dents on the car, mail piling up, or even noticeable changes in mom or dad’s cooking are other sometimes overlooked warning signs.
Be aware that habits and conditions such as smoking or obesity might over time worsen chronic conditions.
Decide the Way Forward as a Family
The transition from independence to giving up some control to an adult child will be unique for every family. There is no right or wrong—only what serves your family’s needs. Be willing to seek guidance when necessary from friends, extended family members, trusted financial advisors, and others. However, in the end it’s important to come to a family decision together on how to move forward.
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