Caring for our parents is at the same time a privilege and an obligation that involves the sacrifice of privacy, time, and money.
I live in a mountain area that jumps from a population of around 3800 in the winter to over 15,000 in the summer.
Obviously that summer influx is made up of vacationers and people with second homes. A great proportion of those second homes are owned by other Silver Agers like us. I have a very small business of taking care of homes for part time residents and often get called upon to do minor repairs to other homes in the area.
A situation I find when called to get a home ready to market, is one in which children of the owners are now taking over for their parents who can no longer come up here for various reasons. Those children are often Silver Agers as well and find themselves faced with care of their aging parents.
Caring for our parents is at the same time a privilege and an obligation that involves the sacrifice of privacy, time, and money. At its best it can be a fulfilling experience. At its worst it can lead to bitter feelings toward one’s parents and one’s siblings, and even to strain in one’s marriage. Since this seems to be a situation that is increasingly frequent, I thought I would do some quick research and pass on the tips that professionals have found to be helpful.
There are myriad articles and books available, but one in particular I found to be concise and extremely helpful was by Phillip Moeller and can be found at US News and World Report.
I will reprint his excellent ten tips below, and I recommend it to you as well as other sites I found and included at the end of this article.
- Think very carefully before quitting a job to help a parent. Gaining time may be offset by not only your loss of current income but also damage to your retirement savings. If you leave work, what are the odds of finding work in the future? Would your job skills still be attractive to prospective employers if you didn’t work for several years?
- Would you lose other helpful benefits if you left your job? In addition to your own health insurance, are there employee disability, life insurance, and long-term care insurance policies that would be very costly to replace? Check out your employer’s flex-time and family leave policies. Perhaps they would allow you to keep your job.
- Make a caregiving budget. Before making a lifestyle decision with financial consequences, put together a comprehensive look at what you are spending on caregiving. Make a companion list of your parent’s resources and how they might be better used to support caregiving activities.
- Explore free or low-cost public benefits. Several websites can provide help in identifying and getting help with caregiving tasks. Check out the government’s eldercare locator. The National Council on Aging operates a benefits checklist service, and the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging has extensive information on caregiving help, plus an online locator to a local office in your area.
- Learn about Medicare and Medicaid. Think Medicare covers nursing-home stays? It does not? Medicaid does, but only people who have exhausted most of their assets qualify for Medicaid-paid nursing home benefits. What kind of Medicare coverage does your parent have? Do they also have a Medigap or Medicare Advantage policy? A drug plan? What are the co-pays, out-of-pocket limits, and other financial aspects of their insurance? Check out MetLife’s own primer on Medicare and Medicaid.
- Understand the costs of keeping your parent in their home. Most people want to grow older in their own home, surrounded by possessions and memories. How much will such “aging in place” cost, and can you find help? MetLife has an Aging in Place Workbook. For a detailed look at in-home and institutional care costs, look at the 2011 Genworth Cost of Care study.
- Consider professional help. If your parent’s needs are extensive and challenging, consider hiring a geriatric-care manager who can put together a care plan for you, and can often identify community resources to reduce your own expenses and time. The National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers can explain professional standards and services, and also has a locator to help you find a professional nearby.
- Watch out for financial scams. Financial abuse of the elderly has, sadly, become a growth industry during the nation’s tough economic times. Make sure your parents are protected from making hasty, poor, and expensive financial decisions.
- Have “the conversation.” Make sure you understand what your parent want should you wind up with the legal power and responsibility to make decisions for them. This conversation may be uncomfortable for both of you, but it is essential. If you don’t know the ins and outs of a power of attorney, a living will, or a healthcare proxy—and few people do—find an eldercare expert or attorney to help.
- Make your own retirement plan. How are you fixed for retirement? Will you be able to support yourself? How might your financial future be affected by taking care of a parent? Are there steps you need to take to deal with these implications?
In the event that you are faced with this for your parents or not, it would probably be a good idea to review this with your own children so that together you and they may make viable and practical plans in the event that they may be face with caring for you some time in the future.
None of us wants to become a burden to our loved ones and proper planning can go a long way toward preventing that.