I was born to older parents. In the 70s, it was unusual for couples over 35 to start building their families. I’ve always grown up knowing that my parents would probably need longer-term care sooner than those of my peers.
Even so, it came as a total surprise to me when my father became suddenly, critically ill. I knew that he had developed some serious health issues over the last few years. I had seen both him and my mother become gradually less independent.
But for some reason, it never really crossed my mind that either one of my older parents would need more hands-on care soon.
My mother, sister, and I have been faced with one decision after another that has needed to be made regarding my father’s care over the past few months. There have been a few times when we have made those decisions without knowing his wishes and prayed that we were making the ones he would want us to.
In hindsight, we definitely should have had a family discussion years ago about what our parents’ wishes would be. I always found it difficult to talk with my mom and dad about their end-of-life decisions preferences. Even working in a nursing home didn’t help me be braver about broaching the subject with them.
My family isn’t alone in facing this.
About 30 million households in the US have older parents who need specialized care.
I’ve had a few friends who have been in similar situations to mine in the past few months. Without exception, each has expressed the same sentiments of exhausted bafflement as they’ve had to wade through the piles of paperwork to be completed and consents to be signed. All of us are left wondering why we didn’t start preparing for these circumstances before it was too late. We all would benefit from approaching this difficult subject with our aging parents.
Now that I’m knee-deep in planning for my parents’ long-term care in their golden years, I’m learning so much that I wish I had taken the time to find out before it became urgent. For those of you out there who have older parents, please take the time now to talk with them about their physical, emotional, and financial situations before it’s too late.
In order to help the conversation, I’ve gathered some great advice and resources that others can use as a jumping-off point. Again, this is really intended more as a guide and not a comprehensive list. It’s a difficult conversation to have but it’s worth it.
Know your parents’ financial status.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to know exactly what’s in their bank accounts to the last penny. You still should know what accounts they have, and where they are located. A designated family member should be jointly attached to those accounts, in case the primary account holder is unable to sign checks or pay bills. Other documents that should be reviewed can include the following:
- Anything related to assets they own: home/property and vehicles are the big ones, but any assets that are owned by elderly loved ones should be listed and documented.
- Social Security benefits.
- Any current bills that they have: utilities, mortgage/car payments, medical bills. Consider streamlining their bill-pay process and taking advantage of their financial institutions’ online resources. This can be a sticking point for a generation that grew up without the information superhighway. However, it may make things easier for you in the long run.
Be aware of your parents’ insurance policies.
Most people over the age of 62 have already elected to draw benefits from Medicare. Medicare only covers about 80% of costs associated with hospital stays, though. I also didn’t know that my parents didn’t have secondary medical insurance. Have copies or know where to locate policy numbers and riders for any and all insurance policies they possess, including medical, prescription, and life insurance.
Document your parents’ end of life wishes.
This might be the hardest thing to do. Nobody wants to talk with family members about dying. In hindsight, I wish my family had had this discussion years ago. We could have been more certain in our decisions when my father was unable to make them. There are so many websites where you can download legal documents for just this purpose. You can also get advance directive paperwork at your primary care physician’s office.
Elect a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care.
This is part of the advance directive documentation, but it’s important that your family choose a DPOA who will follow the wishes of the parent in question without any moral or ethical crises.
Know what your loved ones want you to share on social media.
My sister started Facebook Messenger groups for both sides of our family to keep as many people updated as possible at one time during the most critical time. We both live in the social media era, but our parents don’t. It was important to make sure that at least my mother was aware of what we were sharing.
Repeat steps 1-5 for yourself.
Once you have addressed these issues with your elderly parents and family, you need to put these measures into place for yourself and your spouse, partner, and even children. Emergencies happen. Giving your loved ones the tools to make the right decisions for your care when you can’t make them is invaluable. They can then focus on your recovery.