It’s the most wonderful time of the year!! That means many of us will spend time with our families over the next several weeks as we gather to enjoy the holidays. Amidst the food, presents, laughter, and shared memories, there comes a moment when we may notice changes in our aging parents, prompting us to ask how to help or what to do. This is a difficult time for you as the adult child, seeing your once vibrant mom or dad unable to complete simple tasks, or watch their increasingly fragile bodies navigate their home and daily activities. It’s difficult for the parents, too, as they are faced with the reality of the decline in their health and the toll the years have taken on them. Conversations must be had, but they are difficult conversations, as the children become the caregiver and the parents fear losing independence.
Supporting aging parents involves a variety of considerations. The steps you take may vary depending on the specific needs and circumstances of your parents, the state in which you live, and financial resources. However, here are 7 general steps that can help guide you in supporting your aging parents.
Step 1: Assess Their Needs
Evaluate your parents’ physical health, mental well-being, and overall living situation. Ask about medical conditions, doctors’ names, and medications. Are they taking their medications as prescribed? Are your parents able to make financial decisions and handle their bank accounts? Identify specific needs they may have, such as medical care, assistance with daily activities, or emotional support. Is it time to bring in additional help?
Step 2: Open Communication
Have open and honest conversations with your parents about their wishes, concerns, and preferences for their future. Discuss topics such as healthcare decisions, living arrangements, financial planning, and estate planning. You need to know their wishes as to their end-of-life, such as do they want life sustaining treatment if terminally ill or injured or permanently unconscious. This is not a lighthearted conversation to have at Christmas, but take the opportunity while together to have this face to face honest conversation.
Do your parents have a last will and testament, power of attorney, and advance directive for health care? If not, make an appointment with an attorney while you are home with them to get that taken care of. Don’t wait until it’s too late to seek a power of attorney for your parents.
The living arrangements discussion is likely the most difficult. Is their home safe for their current health condition? Is the home functional for them? For example, are they able to step into and out of a tub safely? Perhaps you can help with simple fixes such as installing grab bars while home. However, more intervention and help may be required, including moving them closer to you to make it easier for you to care for them.
Step 3: Create a Support Network
Build a network of support that may include family members, friends, neighbors, and community resources. If you have siblings, collaborate with them or other family members to share responsibilities and ensure a well-rounded support system. If your parents have good neighbors, get their phone numbers and ensure they have yours. Explore options for at home care and people or agencies who can help with cleaning the house, cooking, and grocery shopping for them.
Step 4: Financial Planning
Review your parents’ financial situation and help them plan for their future needs. This may include exploring options for long-term care insurance, understanding their retirement savings, and considering budgeting for potential medical expenses. Discuss their financial health, determine if they have life insurance, burial policy, investments, and what bank accounts they have. Ensure the payable-on-death beneficiary designations on all financial accounts are current.
Know where their important documents related to finances, estate planning, deeds, titles, life insurance policies, and retirement polices can be found. Encourage them to get all those documents in one easy-to-find location. If they have a safe deposit box, now is the time to be sure you or another trusted person is added to that box and know where the key is located.
Determine if your parents are still able to manage their finances. This is an important time to ensure they have executed a power of attorney that gives you or another trusted person the authority to act on their behalf when they are not able to do so themselves.
Step 5: Healthcare Planning
Ensure that your parents have access to appropriate healthcare. This includes regular check-ups, managing chronic conditions, and discussing the advance health care directive. What are their current illnesses and medications? Do they want life sustaining treatment if they are terminally ill or injured or permanently unconscious? Are they going to their doctors regularly and taking their medications as prescribed? If they are not, explore ways you can assist in ensuring they are taking care of their health. Consider accompanying them to medical appointments to provide support and gather information. Ensure they have given medical personnel the authority to speak with you about their medical conditions.
If your parents do not have an advance directive for health care, call an estate planning attorney while you are with them to schedule an appointment. This is the opportune time to ensure the execute an advance directive for health care and a power of attorney. Most powers of attorneys will include some health care provisions as well, so be sure to get this essential document prepared as well.
Step 6: Home Safety and Accessibility
Assess the safety and accessibility of their living environment. Make necessary modifications to reduce fall risks and ensure their home is conducive to aging in place. This may involve installing handrails, grab bars, ramps, or making other adjustments. Perhaps it’s time to replace that bathtub with a walk-in shower and a shower seat. It may also be time to subscribe to a service they can call if they fall and are unable to get up. We used to joke about the commercial, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up,” but now that we see that possibility with our parents, the danger of that possibility is real and no longer funny. You may also need to install some security cameras or monitors.
Step 7: Emotional Support
Provide emotional support and companionship. Aging can be a challenging time, and maintaining strong emotional connections is crucial. Regular visits, phone calls, and engaging in activities together can contribute to their overall well-being. They don’t want to be a burden to you or anyone, least of all, you. As you take on the role of caregiver to your parents, continue to assure them they are not a burden.
Enlist Professonal Help
Each family situation is unique and it’s essential to tailor your approach based on your parents’ specific needs, preferences, and their personalities. You know your parents and how best to talk with them about difficult subjects. Sometimes, though, you just have to rip off the band aid, and talk about it!
Regularly assess their situation and adapt your support accordingly. Consult with healthcare professionals, financial advisors, at-home care services, assisted living facilities, and other experts for further insights and guidance.
Estate Planning Needs
Finally, if they don’t have an estate plan, or their estate planning documents are more than 3 years old, get them to an estate planning lawyer soon to prepare those incredibly important documents or review the old ones. Don’t wait until it’s too late and your parents are no longer competent to sign the power of attorney or they pass away before that last will and testament is signed. I have a FREE estate planning workbook to answer basic questions and provide an framework to prepare your estate plan. Click HERE for that free book. Alabama residents can schedule with Huntsville Estate Planning Lawyer, LLC by clicking HERE.