Parental Guidance: Helping Your Children Help You
Without proper planning, the job of caring for an aging parent can be overwhelming. But the more we prepare our children to handle the issues that may come along as we age, the better able they will be to deal with them.
This article shares suggestions, tips, checklists and resources to help make it easier to discuss the sensitive "must know" information your children will need to properly care for you in the future.
The key is to start the discussions and planning with your family early, before an emergency arises. By sharing your wishes, you'll equip them to handle whatever the future may bring.
Take it one step at a time
Most people are uncomfortable raising these issues with their children. But, the consequences of not having this discussion can be devastating, for both you and your family. Consider taking it gradually-don't try to cover everything in one sitting. Make it clear to your children that you are not ready for them to take over your life. You merely want them to have the information they need when the time comes.
How to begin the conversation
Choose the right time to tackle this sensitive issue with your children. Here are some tips that may help:
- Pick a quiet time to have your first discussion—a birthday or holiday celebration is, for most, probably not the right time.
- Ideally, these conversations should include the whole family—you, your spouse, your children, and perhaps even a neutral third party to facilitate the process.
- To break the ice, you may want to discuss the fact that you are looking to share information now that can help them when the time comes.
- Don't try to tackle all issues at once. An initial conversation where everyone agrees that the planning needs to begin may be ideal. Then, you can tackle the issues that need to be addressed in subsequent discussions.
Important topics to discuss with your children
To help facilitate the discussion with your children, you may want to use the following checklists to help cover your wishes in three important areas: health/lifestyle, financial and legal/estate.
- What types of insurance coverage do you have? Outline the coverage you have in place—such as Medicare or Medicaid, Medigap coverage, dental insurance, and long-term care insurance.
- What medications are you taking? And for what conditions? Who is your pharmacist? Make a list of all of your medications, including over-the-counter drugs, as well as dosage amounts and instructions for taking them.
- Who are your doctors-and what are their telephone numbers?
- What kind of medical intervention do you want in case of an emergency? Are there things you do not want to happen in the event of a massive stroke, heart attack or other serious situation?
- Do you have any health-related concerns your family should know about?
- If your health declines, what are your preferences? Do you prefer to continue living in your own home? How can your home be modified to make it more livable as you age? Is living with one of your family members an option?
- Is your income adequate and stable? What are your income sources? Make a list of all investments and account numbers, including bank accounts, CDs, IRAs, stocks and bonds.
- Do you anticipate needing financial help from your children or other family members? If so, how much?
- Who are your financial advisors and what are their phone numbers, email addresses, etc.? (For example, your accountant or insurance broker.)
- Are your estate documents (such as wills and trusts) and beneficiary information current? When was the last time these documents were reviewed? Events that trigger a review of these items include marriage, divorce, births and deaths within the family, and tax law changes.
- Have you put health and financial powers of attorney and a living will in place? Have the appointees been informed and provided with copies of all documents?
- Where are all of your important papers kept? Who has access to them? It may be a good idea for you to provide copies of these documents to your children. At the very least, your children should know who has them in case of an emergency.
- What funeral or burial plans do you have? Have you done any pre-planning for your funeral? If not, would you consider it? Pre-planning can be an excellent way to help ensure that your final wishes are carried out.
- Who is your attorney and what is his/her phone number?
Helpful resources for you and your family
You don't have to tackle this by yourself. Support and guidance are available by telephone, online and in your community. There are people skilled in the business of elder care that can make this transition easier for you all.
Here are a few websites where you'll find relevant articles, resources, and links to other sites for additional help:
- www.asaging.org. The American Society on Aging—a valuable resource for those working with seniors and their families.
- www.aoa.gov. The U.S. Administration on Aging—a government agency that strives to help the elderly maintain their dignity and independence.
- www.eldercare.gov. The Eldercare Locator—a public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging, which links those who need assistance with state and local area agencies on aging, and community-based organizations that serve older adults and their caregivers.
- www.ftc.gov. The Federal Trade Commission—provides information for those wishing to plan a funeral. When visiting this website, type "funerals" in the search box.
Ease their minds
Guilt, frustration and resentment are all natural emotions when you and your children are faced with this situation. Suggest that your family ask loved ones and friends for any assistance they can provide when the time comes. Encourage them not to neglect their own needs-or the needs of their family-should they take on the responsibility of caring for you.