As a financial planner, I’ve seen my fair share of families struggling with the overwhelming responsibility of caring for their children and aging parents.
It’s a situation that I like to call being “sandwiched” – caught between two generations that both need your time, energy, and resources; how to send a child off to college and find mom an assisted living facility.
Start planning now if you’re in this position or see it on the horizon.
Start the Conversation
The first step in planning parental care is to start talking about it. This will likely be a series of conversations over the years rather than just one. Start early.
The conversations may not be initially welcome or challenging, but you won’t regret having had them. You want to discuss your parents’ wishes for care as they age, what they plan for, and what they have covered financially.
Everyone believes that they will live a healthy life until age 100 and then die peacefully in one’s sleep. I wish that outcome for everyone.
Statistically speaking, it only happens to a small fraction of us. Better to be prepared for a worst-case outcome and not need to be ready than to be caught off-guard.
Don’t be surprised when your parents threaten to “end it” when their lives become less comfortable. Everyone says this, too. “Just put a pillow over my head,” they say. The reality is that few people want to do this on the good days, and the truth is that our culture doesn’t support making end-of-life decisions for ourselves.
What To Talk About
This conversation should cover a variety of topics, including
- What your parents’ wishes are for care
- Possible scenarios, like who gets sick first and how each scenario would play out • Their definition of “quality of life.”
- How they feel about palliative care
- How they’ve handled sickness in the past
- How they handle significant changes (moving to a new home while dealing with illness will be a major one)
How To Get the Conversation Started
Starting the conversation can be challenging, as many older adults don’t want to think about aging and declining health, but it’s a necessary step if you want to be prepared for the future.
Be honest and open about these topics and approach them from a place of love. As I coach my clients, start with “I love you. I know you love me. And if you don’t love me, I know you love your grandchildren. So, could you help us out here? Let’s discuss what you want your last years to look like.”
You can start with more minor, five-minute conversations and bring up aging and care in your everyday conversations. Just like with teenagers, car rides with your elders, where you don’t have to make eye contact, are an excellent opportunity for discussion.
You can also use me, your financial planner, as a conversation starter. “I was talking with my financial planner about planning for our long-term care expenses. Have you had a similar conversation?”
You can also pick a scenario from your own life experience. “My friend had to decide where to put her mom for memory care. What would you have wanted in that instance?”
Also, don’t be afraid to let these conversations be humorous, irreverent, or go badly. Often, seeds get planted that bloom later. Months or years later, your aging loved one will likely return and say, “Remember when you asked me….? Here’s how I feel about that.”
What to Consider
There are several factors to consider when planning for parental care, but I’ll outline some of the most important ones here.
Long-term Care Insurance: Encourage your parents to consider getting long-term care insurance products if they haven’t already. This can help leverage their existing assets and ensure they’re financially prepared for a long-term care episode. If you have the financial bandwidth, you may also be able to help pay for this insurance.
Living Situation: It’s essential to consider the living situation your parents will need as they age. This might mean moving them into a position they can “grow into” – independent living, assisted living, and hospice. It might also mean moving them closer to you or another family member so that they can receive support more efficiently.
Downsizing and Decluttering: Now is the time for your parents to start decluttering and downsizing their homes so they can live more comfortably as they age. This will also make it easier for you to manage their care later.
Memory Care: Dementia and other memory issues can make it difficult for your parents to continue living at home. It’s important to consider memory care options early on to prepare if this becomes necessary.
Spending on Themselves: Finally, remind your parents to spend on themselves. They might want to fund a 529 plan for their kids, but it’s not worth it if that gets in the way of their quality of life as they age. Please encourage them to spend not only on things like long-term care insurance but also experiences, travel, and things that bring them joy and comfort. This will help them to live more fully in the present and to be happier in the long run.
Health Care Proxies and Powers of Attorney: These legal documents can help ensure that your parents have someone who can make decisions for them if they cannot do so. They can also have a conversation with their doctor(s) about putting their wishes in place. This can also help to prevent family disputes down the line.
Estate Planning: Estate planning can help ensure that your parent’s wishes are honored, and their assets are distributed as they want. Estate planning also includes preparing a will, creating trusts, and designating beneficiaries.
It’s Never Too Late to Start Planning
I can’t stress enough the importance of starting early when planning for parental care. Whether you’re in the middle of the sandwich or seeing it on the horizon, remember that you’re not alone.
With the proper planning and preparation, you can ensure that everyone is cared for and that your parents have the best quality of life possible.
If you’d like to talk about how to have this conversation with your parents, please reach out.
About the Author:
Jessica Lanning JD, CFP® brings focus and perspective to your individual financial needs to identify your opportunities for investment and wealth. Regardless of what you’ve done before or what “mistakes” you think you’ve made, Jessica can help get you back on track quickly and safely. As a former practicing lawyer, she brings a comprehensive approach to legal, tax, and financial challenges so that her clients can enjoy peace of mind. A huge proponent of conscious decision-making, Jessica makes sure her clients are educated and informed so that they make sound decisions with clarity and confidence.
Lanning Financial Inc. is a registered investment adviser. The information presented is for educational purposes only and does not intend to make an offer or solicitation for the sale or purchase of any specific securities, investments, or investment strategies. Investments involve risk and unless otherwise stated, are not guaranteed. Be sure to first consult with a qualified financial adviser and/or tax professional before implementing any strategy discussed herein. Past performance is not indicative of future performance.