Tips for Adult Children

A guide for discussing options for retirement living

Sitting down with your aging parents to discuss legal, financial, and long-term care issues can be difficult.

It is hard to face the fact that our parents, the people who took care of us, are getting older and may need assistance in decision making and in caring for themselves.

Talking about finances may be difficult as many of our parents are of a generation that considers financial matters private - even from family members. Talking about end of life preparations with parents, including how they view the end of their life and what preparations they have made, can be the most difficult.

While these subjects may be uncomfortable to discuss, they are important conversations to have. The simple truth is that having this uncomfortable conversation now with Mom and Dad, before any health or financial crisis may force you to do so, will make things easier for both your parents and you in the future.

Ten tips on caring for agingĀ parents

Because dynamics vary from family to family, one size will not fit all. These ten tips on caring for elderly parents should help in opening this dialogue with your parents.

1. Start Discussions Early

Don't wait until it's too late. While your parents are still in good health, use the opportunity to start the conversation. Perhaps an item that appears in a newspaper, or a friend or relative's illness can be the opening to start the dialogue. Once your parents develop a serious illness or are unable to make decisions for themselves, it is much more difficult to have this kind of conversation.

2. Include Other Family Members

You are not in this alone. Bring other family members into the discussions with your parents, but first determine whether they would have different opinions that would undermine what you are trying to accomplish. Get all the issues on the table and gather support from siblings and other relatives.

3. Explain the Purpose of Your Conversation

Let your parents know you are concerned about taking care of them, and you want to do the right thing for them as they age. This will help them better understand why you are bringing up sensitive issues.

4. Understand Your Parents' Need to Control Their Own Lives

It is important to remember that your parents have a right to make their own decisions. At some point, you may need to balance your parents' independence with their safety, but try not to take away their sense of control over their own lives.

5. Agree to Disagree

Your heart may tell you you're right, and that you know what needs to be done, but you and your parents may disagree with each other. Don't try and bully your way through. Their wishes should prevail unless their health or safety is in question.

6. Use Good Communication Skills

It will be more effective if you offer options and not advice. Remember to ask for your parents' ideas. Express your concerns rather than telling them what they should do. Listen and don't be afraid of silence. Use open-ended questions that foster discussion rather than closed questions that are answered with a "yes" or "no."

7. Ask About Records and Documentation

Know where your parents' insurance policies, wills, health care proxies, living wills, trust documents, tax returns, and investment and banking records are located. You can start by asking your parent where they keep their papers, and whom you should contact in case they're in an accident, or are incapacitated. It may be difficult to ask directly about financial and legal matters, and this approach may provide you with an opening to discuss what provisions have been made, and what may need to be done.

8. Provide Information

Your parents may not have enough information about the legal and financial options available to them. You can play an important role by serving as a resource to them, and by providing materials for them to read. As they think about the information, it will offer many opportunities to talk with them.

a) Your parents may be eligible for government programs. Check www.benefitscheckup.org for assistance for people over 55. You might find they're eligible for benefits that will help pay for prescription drugs, health care, utilities, and other essential items or services.

b) Understand that Medicare generally does not cover long-term care, and Medicaid pays long-term care expenses only for low-income individuals.

c) Suggest your parents learn about long-term care insurance options.

d) Identify what community services may be available if your parents were to remain in their home for as long as possible. Some home modifications, such as bathroom rails and entry ramps, may make sense.

9. Re-evaluate if Things Aren't Working Well

If you find that the conversations aren't going well, try and assess what is going wrong. Perhaps you aren't coming across the way you thought you were. Or perhaps you just don't have enough information at hand. You might suggest that your parents talk with a third party - a geriatric care manager, a financial planner, or a lawyer - if you think that they could use some expert assistance.

10. Treat Your Parents With Respect

Your parents have lived a long time, and have learned a great deal during their lives. They may have made great sacrifices to give you the life you have. While old age can be a rewarding time, it is also often a time of loss - of loved ones, of health, and of independence. Treat your parents with love and respect, and reassure them that you will be there for them as they age.

How to talk with your aging parent about retirement.