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Many adult children will one day assume greater responsibility for the health and finances of their parents, effectively trading places—the once cared for becoming caregiver.

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. A surprisingly high percentage of unpaid family caregivers are millennials – in fact, ¼ U.S. caregivers are people born between 1980 and 1996.1

If such a reversal is on your horizon, here are some things to consider.

Have the Caregiving Conversation Early

To effectively establish the parameters of your role as caregiver, you’ll need to broach 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 critical to be proactive rather than wait for a crisis. If your parents are willing to address caregiving options while they are still relatively young and in good health, take them up on it and be as honest, upfront, and—yes—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 we talk about how to cover caregiving—whether via home equity, investments, or adult children providing or paying for care—the more choice and control we have, says Blue Ocean Global Wealth CEO Marguerita Cheng.

Identify the Financial Resources That Are Available

Plan to meet with your parents’ financial advisors and walk through the resources on hand and potential future needs. This is important, “especially if there is the worry that they could run out of money due to needed care,” advises Scott A. Bishop, partner and executive vice president, Financial Planning, at STA Wealth Management. Once these details have been ascertained, a consultation with estate or elder law attorneys is also highly recommended.

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, Bishop adds.

When it comes to any financial matters, Carolyn Rosenblatt—a registered nurse, elder law attorney and one of the founders of AgingParents.com—warns, “people with dementia of any kind should not be left with responsibility for the family trust and investment decisions.” And that’s true even when the condition is present in mild form: “They are easily ripped off by predators or they make irrational financial decisions which can lead to disastrous consequences,” she says.

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 in the health realm 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.)

Further, remain on the watch 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 cognizant that habits and conditions such as smoking or obesity might over time worsen chronic conditions.  

In addition to seeking an appropriate medical assessment, Rosenblatt suggests, have family meetings to discuss the likely need for caregiving as the disease progresses.

Make Plans for Long-Term Care

Many seniors prefer to “age in place,” staying in their own home for as long as possible. There are long-term care costs to consider in that case: Will, for example, one child be able to move back into the parents’ home or move parents into their home? If so, how will other children help in providing home care and other financial assistance?  

“Family members need to be wise consumers when it comes to making decisions with an aging loved one about their choices,” Rosenblatt says. “Most choices are driven by how much one can spend on them.”

She points out that adapting a home to accommodate a wheelchair or other disability needs may require construction costs. Even if a parent moves into a son or daughter’s home, it’s possible that child won’t be able to function as a primary caregiver: He or she may have a full-time job, young children to look after, or any number of other responsibilities requiring them to hire an unlicensed, non-medical helper or—even pricier—licensed persons to provide a parent at-home medical care.

Decide the Way Forward as a Family

The transition from independence to ceding some control to an adult child will be unique for every family. There is no right or wrong—only what properly serves your family’s needs. Be willing to seek guidance when necessary from friends, extended family members, trusted financial advisors, and others—but in the end there will be no substitute for coming to a family consensus on how to move forward into this next phase of life.

 

This article is not an endorsement of any particular product, service or organization. It is intended to promote awareness and is for educational purposes only. 

 

1 Jenkins, J. (2018, May 29). Millennials and caregiving? Yes, it’s a thing. AARP. Retrieved from https://www.aarp.org/caregiving/home-care/info-2018/millennial-caregivers-work-life.html

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