So many of our clients are a part of the so-called ‘sandwich generation’ – those helping to care for their parents while continuing to support their own children. This is very important to Mailey Rogers Group, both because we strive to guide our clients through life’s opportunities and challenges, and because we are living this reality ourselves. Victoria wrote a fantastic post on our personal estate planning experience and the emotional elements of transitioning her aging parents out of a beloved family home. We know that families are often faced with tough decisions and sensitive obstacles when caring for aging loved ones, and that financial planning is only one part of a much bigger picture. You may be pulled in all directions, but you aren’t alone. Here, we offer three tips to help clients care for aging parents.
Communicate Openly and Define Roles
Each family is different, and while you may know your parents extremely well, it’s always beneficial to avoid assumptions about their wants and needs. Maybe your parents want to stay in their home as long as possible, or perhaps they’re looking forward to downsizing or relocating. Some may want to maintain control of their finances, while others are relieved to pass responsibility on to a trusted son or daughter via a Power of Attorney. Some will gladly accept help with activities of daily life, while others may be more resistant. So how do you navigate this complex new territory without hurting anyone’s feelings, or having your own feelings hurt?
Asking the right questions and understanding how your role of child/caregiver is best structured can help preserve a strong and loving relationship. Will you be involved in their healthcare – and if so, how involved? Will you be managing outside caregivers, such as house cleaners, Personal Support Workers or food delivery services, or will they? Are responsibilities divided appropriately between siblings, or handled solely by one child? And if one parent is in better physical or cognitive health than the other, how will you support each of your parents while respecting their relationship with each other? There will of course be times when you and your parents (or siblings) disagree on a course of action, but the more open discussion you have, the more likely you are to avoid family conflict and undue stress.
Put Help in Place
If your goal is to help your parents age comfortably while maintaining as much autonomy as possible, there are plenty of ways to set them up for success. You can help modify their home for any physical limitations (ie by adding safety features to stairs, beds and showers). Outside help can be arranged for anything from cleaning to transportation to bathing, and technology can be employed inside the home to help with daily activities. If your parents have vision or hearing issues, you can install special features such as large-font phones or strobe-light doorbell features. An iPad may help to manage adaptive technology and family communication, and a medical alert bracelet can offer peace of mind.
It may also help to create a calendar that clearly maps out when family members or outside caregivers will be at the home, and perhaps even create a communication book or whiteboard where various parties can leave notes (“please ensure that mom and dad’s laundry is done tomorrow”, “mom’s glasses broke – we have ordered a new pair”, “grocery delivery is coming on Thursday”, “John will be driving you to your doctor’s appointment on Tuesday”).
Be Prepared to Set Emotion Aside (Sometimes)
There may be a time where you are essentially parenting your parents, but have to downplay this in order to respect their feelings – after all, even if you’re 65, they are still Mom and Dad. They may need the help, but they might not always want it. There could be a time where you realize that your elderly father is no longer fit to drive a car, though he disagrees, or that the family home is no longer the safest or most financially feasible option. Money management could become an issue, particularly if there isn’t a clear plan in place for paying bills or cash flow has become a problem.
There are going to be hard times and tough decisions, and emotional moments for both you and your parents. While caring for aging parents is something that is done out of compassion and love, there will be times where you have to set emotion aside and make practical, need-based decisions (or request guidance from a trusted third party, such as a doctor, lawyer or wealth advisor). It will be hard, and in some cases, you may require support and empathy yourself. Remember that while you’re caring for your children and parents, you have to prioritize your own wellness – after all, you can’t pour from an empty cup.
At Mailey Rogers Group, we understand the responsibility of caring for aging parents because it is a genuine part of our lives. We are dedicated to helping each and every client, and if this is your story, we’re happy to help you along the journey. If you have questions about planning for retirement, will and estate planning or financially supporting your children or parents, please give us a call – we’d be pleased to set up a time to connect in person. Also, please consider attending this seminar on Technology and Aging in the Home, which may be helpful to you and your aging relatives. All are welcome!