6 Steps to Take When Caring for Aging Parents
Caring for aging parents is becoming more and more common. If you are currently looking after your elderly parents or think you will be in the future, it’s important to make plans now, rather than when a medical or even financial emergency looms.
At Linscomb & Williams, we work with many clients who are either concerned about or plan to be able to care for their parents someday, so we hear a lot of questions about how to do so. If you find yourself in this situation, below are 6 things you should consider.
1. Plan to Discuss Their Care
While some people plan out every detail of their care and support for later in life, many don’t. Unless your parents have already discussed their care and plans with you, you may need to broach the subject. Your parents may be reluctant to bring it up – and frankly, you may feel some reluctance as well.
Ask your parents to sit down with you and other concerned family members. This can make the conversation more comfortable than if you just spring a discussion on them. Choose a time that works for your parents, and include other family members if appropriate.
Approach it as a proactive method to ensure their safety and care. Stress, for example, that you need to know what to do should they suddenly become ill or you need to care for them, their home and their finances.
2. Determine Where They Want to Live
At a minimum, you should know your parents’ wishes and desires for where they will live as they age. Essentially, there are 3 residential choices for everyone as they get older:
- In their own home, current or a new location
- With family
- In a nursing home or assisted-living facility
Each choice brings a host of questions and decisions with it. For example, if they want to age in place, is their current home likely to remain navigable by an elderly person, or will it need retrofitting, such as a wheelchair ramp or navigation aids in bathrooms? Can your parents keep up with maintenance and repairs, or should they downsize soon?
If your parents decide they’d rather live with family (or should), which family member will it be? Does that person have resources and space to care for a family member? Should the financial burden of care be shared with other family members?
Many people move to a nursing home or assisted-living facility once a healthcare issue indicates they should (although some assisted-living facilities take healthy people). Have your parents looked at assisted-living facilities? What about nursing homes?
The location of where they will retire will also make a difference. Especially if you will be caring for them. Financial planning in Houston can be different than in other areas, so there may be different rules to consider, benefits you can take advantage of or challenges in moving them. It can be beneficial to talk with a financial advisor in your area if you will be taking on the responsibility.
3. Discuss Their Health
The state of your parents’ health and healthcare has very large implications for where and how they live, as healthcare can be expensive.
The first thing to consider is whether they currently have any health conditions? Are their conditions managed? If they want to age in place, what happens if they need medical help, such as help getting around after a stroke? What happens if a medical condition or simply the frailty of old age makes them unable to perform the activities of daily living, such as getting dressed?
Secondly, if your parents move in with a family member, are their medical providers and hospitals they may need nearby? Does their insurance coverage include any needed new healthcare providers?
Thirdly, if they are planning to move into an assisted-living facility, how will their healthcare work?
4. Ascertain Their Finances
If you will be caring for an aging parent, it’s imperative to know their financial situation. Your parents’ desires, plans and healthcare depend on finances and assets.
There can be dangers in thinking their assets are more or less than they really are. Is their current home manageable financially? Can they pay for their healthcare in the event of a serious illness?
Some people carry Medigap plans that will cover what Medicare doesn’t in terms of deductibles, copays and prescription costs. Others don’t, and a need for significant health treatment can add up to thousands of dollars out of pocket if that’s the case. Do your parents have cash flow or assets to cover this eventuality?
If you parents want to consider assisted living, do they have the assets required? Be sure to check into several facilities if your parents want this option.
What about long-term care such as a nursing home? An estimated 70 percent of Americans will need long-term care such as a nursing home at some point in their lives, even if only for a limited number of months. Medicare does not cover long-term care. While Medicaid will pay for long-term care, Medicaid was designed to serve lower-income people. You cannot receive it if your assets are over a certain threshold – and if your parents need Medicare, they may have to deplete their assets first. Planning around Medicaid eligibility can be very complicated and the services of a qualified elder care attorney are often called for.
Some people have insurance for long-term care, which can be used for home health aides or a nursing home. Others self-insure via savings. Do your parents have these?
If your parents have sufficient finances to cover where they want to live and their likely healthcare and long-term care needs, that’s great. But if they look likely to fall short in any areas, they’ll need a plan. Downsizing or selling a house or other assets may be options. If they’re looking to move to the Houston area, this recent blog post may help: 10 Reasons Why Houston is a Good Place to Retire.
5. Consider Power(s) of Attorney
Your parents can set up financial power(s) of attorney. Lawyers refer to this document as a Durable Power of Attorney. This gives designated parties ("agents") the right to take care of their finances, such as paying bills and managing income, if they become ill or otherwise incapacitated. These can be revocable, which means they can be ended when the parent becomes able to manage their own affairs again.
Medical power of attorney works very similarly, but it allows a designee to make healthcare decisions rather than financial ones.
6. Look After Yourself
Caring for an aging parent can be stressful, both emotionally and financially. As a result, it’s important to look after yourself as well.
If you will be dropping in frequently on your parent(s) or they will be living with you, make plans to have someone help you periodically.
You might also consider how your parents can contribute. They may actually want to! Many people feel better if they contribute to a household (if they live with you) or to their care (if they don’t). Remember, this doesn’t have to be financially. If you have children, for instance, could a parent babysit them in exchange for care?
Both the short- and long-term issues in caring for an older parent can be complex. It’s prudent to discuss the financial aspects with a financial advisor to make sure both you and they are on sound economic footing.