I am a big advocate for elders maintaining independence and acting on their own as long as possible. However, some elders delay taking action and there are times when children need to intervene. Nevertheless be mindful of your parents’ feelings when discussing and making plans concerning them.
Holiday get-togethers are a good opportunity for adult children to observe first-hand the changing health situation for elderly parents and perhaps to discuss larger family financial issues, but these conversations can be fraught with minefields. Too often care giving responsibility and money issues tear families apart because of misunderstandings, jealousy, feelings of unfairness and outright greed. There is no reason for a child serving alone as a regular caregiver to his or her parent(s) not to be compensated in some way, but this should be discussed.
A recent Pew Research survey asked about the specific types of support adults provided to their aging parents in the past 12 months. Six in ten children say they have helped with errands, housework and home repairs. Only 14% reported having to provide actual personal care, such as dressing or bathing. About 28% reported having to help financially. Of those who helped 88% say it’s rewarding and 32% said it was stressful. And 66% felt their parents expect the right amount of support from them.
A family meeting should be structured to ensure the right amount of seriousness and time is applied, while still having sufficient time to enjoy the family get-together and so family members don’t walk away murmuring over how you destroyed their children’s holiday. Discussions must be segmented so that younger family members are not involved in adult topics. Grandchildren of suitable age could be involved. Keep your mental agenda very short. I suggest you call or write each sibling in advance and tell them briefly what you are concerned about. Ask them to make their own evaluation of a parent’s declining abilities during their visit. If appropriate parents should be consulted with and share their own concerns whether they are willing to accept various kinds of help, such as meals, housecleaning, running errands, rides to the doctor or hairdresser, home improvements or assistance with paying the bills. For parents that have financial needs gift certificates to their hair dresser or grocery store, coupons for time or rides, or even paying the electric bill make great gifts without embarrassment to a proud parent.
Parents should also be asked to identify what planning they have done, such as creating estate documents naming who they want to handle financial and health care matters. The contents of wills and trusts do not have to be disclosed. If no planning has occurred the children may want to offer to pay the cost for parents to meet alone with an attorney knowledgeable about estate planning, asset preservation and competency issues.
Be aware all feelings and ideas expressed at your family meeting may not have value and can even trigger old hurts. This first meeting may not solve much if you and your siblings have no history of working together on projects, but that’s not a reason not to get started. Being forthright and honest in sharing information will help establish your leadership, if this is a role you are willing to assume.
Since you mention your siblings live out of state be realistic about what they are able and willing to undertake. Running errands on a weekly basis is unrealistic, but spelling you so you can take a vacation or do things with your husband and children several times a year might be possible. Sometimes out of state siblings have special skills needed at this time such as a nursing or accounting or carpentry or other construction trade backgrounds needed to make a house safe for Mom and Dad. Of course one or more siblings may refuse to do anything, but this should not deter you from making suitable plans to ensure your parents are well cared for.
You might want to visit Elder Care Matters at eldercarematters.com, AARP Caregiving Resource Center at aarp.org/caregiving, the US Department of Veteran Affairs VA Caregiver Support at us.caregiver.va.gov/index.asp, ARCH National Respite Network at archrespite.org/respitelocator and our own local Lower Savannah Council of Governments at www.agingcare.com or call 803-649-7981, to figure out how to locate services in your state and community that may help your family.
Disclaimer: Information contained in this column is meant to be of general information on frequently asked questions regarding disability, elder law, estate planning and probate law, and is not specific legal advice to a client. No attorney-client relationship is created by reading this column.