Planning Guide for Families
Like many of our parents, privacy is important to them. Some of our parents have planned very well for their elder years in terms of creating a will, executing a medical and financial Durable Power of Attorney or creating Trusts to provide for their care in the event they are no long able to make sound decisions. Unfortunately, many have done very little to plan adequately. Many times, it’s not because they don’t want to plan, it’s because they don’t know how or don’t trust others to help them, including their adult children. Failing to plan for future responsibilities can lead to last minute scrambling, family tensions, and financial strain. Without a caregiving plan, those family members most affected by the crisis, the care recipients themselves, end up with the least say in their wishes and priorities for the future. It’s hard to imagine not having control over your own future, but too often that is what happens when families don’t ask the important questions ahead of time.
No adult child wants to talk about the “what if’s” with their independent parents. And no parent wants to admit to themselves or their children that they might need help someday. We want to assist you with a guide to help you and other family members discuss and create a caregiving plan for yourself or an aging parent, relative, or close friend or neighbor. The important thing is to start, and continue the conversation in a way that works for you and your family. So before you figure out who will care for your loved one, it’s important to ask yourself some questions:
Who is the best person to start the conversation with your loved one?
What are your biggest concerns and priorities as you put together a caregiving plan?
What are you afraid might happen as a result of this conversation?
How do you think your loved one and other family members might react to the conversation?
How does your family usually respond when uncomfortable subjects are discussed?
How can you explain to your loved one and other family members why it is important to have this conversation?
In addition to emotional support, how much financial support are you willing or able to provide if your loved one needs it?
The reality is that some conversations are just plain difficult even with the people you are closest to. When preparing to discuss a difficult topic, it helps to make the conversation as productive and positive as possible: Try not to approach the conversation with preconceived ideas about what your loved ones might say or how they might react. “Mom, I just wanted to have a talk about what you want. Let’s just start with what is important to you.” Approach the conversation with an attitude of listening not telling. “Dad, have you thought about what you want to do if you needed more help in the future?” as opposed to “We really need to talk about a plan if you get sick.” Make references to yourself and your own thoughts about what you want for the future. Let them know that they are not alone and that everyone will have to make these decisions at some point in time and that it’s best while they are able to fully make decisions. “Look, I know this isn’t fun to think about or talk about, but I really want to know what’s important to you. I’m going to do the same thing for myself.” Do not hide negative information, and be sure to mention your own concerns. “As time goes on, it might be difficult to stay in this house because of all the stairs, but you have other options. Let’s talk about what those might be.” Phrase your concerns as questions, letting your loved ones draw conclusions and make the choices. Give your loved ones room to get angry or upset, but address these feelings calmly. “I understand all this is really hard to talk about. But, it’s important for all of us to discuss.” Make sure everyone is heard especially those family members who might be afraid to tell you what they think. “Donna, I know this is really hard for you, but what do you think about what we are suggesting?” You can’t create an effective family caregiving plan without the input and support of your loved ones and your other family members. Everyone should have a say in the process including the difficult or argumentative family members. It might be easier to leave them out of the initial discussion, but it won’t help later when it’s time to put the plan into action.
Before you sit down to talk about the next steps, you need to assemble your “team.” You team will include those family members (and perhaps some close friends) who want or need to play a role in the caregiving plan including the person receiving care. The care recipient’s wishes and priorities are the most important aspect of every family caregiving plan. To move the planning process forward, it will also help to have one person designated as the family team leader. Once you have your team in place, the next important step is to assess the needs of your loved one. First, it’s important to gather up your loved ones’ personal information such as wills and insurance policies. Second, it’s helpful to find out about resources that are available to support caregivers. Putting all the useful information in one central place will help avoid uninformed decisions and expensive mistakes later on. You can do this without knowing the specifics of their total financial picture, but you at least will know where to look when the time comes where they need your assistance.
Make sure your loved one has executed a Durable Power of Attorney for both Financial and Medical decisions on their behalf. You can download and fill these documents out online for any state for a fee, generally under $25.00. Go to your local bank and sign them with a Notary. They are invalid if signed prior to being witnessed by a notary. You can them begin uncovering assets by pulling a copy of the most recent tax return. The tax return will show things like Interest Income from the bank where your parents have savings and checking accounts and maybe a CD or mutual funds too. It will also show Dividend Income from things like Mutual Funds and Stock holdings. If you don’t know what firm the mutual funds or stocks are held, you can call the company’s Investor Relations department.
These are just a few tips to help you avoid crisis and be in a position to help your loved one quickly when the time comes. Once you have put together your team, assessed your family’s needs, and gathered all the information you need to make solid, informed decisions, it’s time to sit down with all the important players and put your plan together. You can host a family meeting, hold a family conference call (especially if your family members are spread out across the country), or have a series of email conversations, especially to keep everyone informed as things change. For the initial planning, however, a face-to-face conversation is always the best idea. Whatever you do, make sure that everyone knows about the discussion ahead of time so that there are no surprises or hurt feelings.
After coming up with a plan, the group may consider designating one family member to write up a brief summary of what was decided. Because people sometimes remember conversations differently, this is an important tool to make sure that everyone agrees on and has a record of what was discussed and who is responsible for what. Most important, a written summary of the plan helps to ensure that all the wishes and needs of the potential care recipient have been considered and included. The plan itself doesn’t have to be fancy, formal or long. It can strictly be a blueprint of the caregiving plan.
For ourselves and our loved ones, all we really want is happiness, good health, and loving family and friends. When the unexpected happens, however, it helps to have the tools in place to deal with life’s complications, especially when they are designed to help you care for someone close to you. The strength and success of the caregiving plan is only tested when the plan is actually put into action. It’s always possible that circumstances and relationships may change by the time a family is ready to use the plan. That’s why it is important for the team to re-evaluate the plan from time to time. Most important, family members should always remember that no matter how organized and committed you are, the plan may have to change as you go along. It’s having the conversation in the first place and understanding the needs, wishes and dreams behind it that will help ensure a meaningful and caring future for you and those you love.