How to Plan for Your Aging Parents

Planning for aging parents can feel uncomfortable. No one wants to think about the fact that they or their loved ones will deal with emergencies, financial insecurity and eventually death, but it’s an important conversation that needs to occur. Without a plan, you can find yourself unnecessarily stressed. Here are a few tips on how to plan for your aging parents.

The First Step

The first step is to have an open and honest conversation with everyone immediately involved, including not just your parents but siblings, adult children, nieces and nephews, etc. If they will be participating in helping with your parents’ caregiving, they should be involved in the planning process for your aging parents.

During family discussions, it’s important to understand and communicate what goals look like for each participant, then come to a mutual understanding. Frustrations occur when there’s poor communication. For example, if your parents want to live mostly independently but don’t have transportation and expect family to drive them to and from appointments, shopping trips and other outings, but there isn’t an agreement with the family regarding what that will look like, who will be the primary means of transportation or how often it’s expected, that can cause friction down the line.

Emergency Planning

No one wants to think about emergencies, especially when it comes to their loved ones, but it’s an important part of planning for your parents as they age. Whether it’s understanding what will happen in the case of an environmental emergency, how to handle big “what if” scenarios like a fall in the house, or what your parents’ wishes are if they are unable to make or voice their choices on their own, it’s important to have a plan in place so that everyone is on the same page and can act when necessary.

When creating an emergency plan, determine all the potential emergencies, which include geographical issues. For example, do your parents live in an area where power outages may occur? Are they in a flood path? What’s the plan if there’s a blizzard or they need to be evacuated?

Your family’s emergency plan should also include health-related conversations. These can include what to do if your parents:

  • Are involved in a car accident–who will be the point of contact and at what point will your parent give up driving?
  • Suffer a stroke or heart attack at home–how will they call for help?
  • Need to go to the emergency room–what hospital would they prefer to go to and who is the emergency contact on their paperwork?
  • Can’t communicate what they want–who is their power of attorney? (More information on this below.)

Of course, emergencies will include incredibly difficult topics, but your family should have a clear understanding of what your parents’ wishes are and how to get the proper documentation regarding:

  • A living will: A legal document that gives instructions regarding the person’s wishes around life-sustaining treatment if the individual can’t communicate them, including whether they do or do not want breathing assistance, artificial hydration and feeding, blood transfusions, and surgery. A living will also allows the individual to identify a healthcare representative to make decisions on their behalf if they are incapacitated.
  • Power of Attorney: A power of attorney is the person who is designated to make legal or financial decisions for an individual, especially if they’re unable. The power of attorney should be a single person who is aware and able to honor requests made in documents such as the living will. While multiple people can be powers of attorney, it can get a little difficult to navigate the system or personal opinions. It’s best to identify one person who is local and would be available to be present in-person for executing contracts and making decisions according to your parents’ living will and wants.
  • Anatomical gifts: This is also known as organ, tissue, and body donation. Many states require that whether someone is willing to donate their body or parts thereof needs to be made clear via documentation (such as within a living will).
  • Paperwork: Someone other than the parents should know where to find bank and financial information, estate and will documents, policy information (life, pension, Social Security), titles to assets (vehicles and homes), Social Security cards and birth certificates, and medical information.

It’s uncomfortable and heavy, but the more you plan now, the better your family will be prepared if the unexpected happens.

Financial Planning for Aging Parents

Another difficult conversation topic: money. It can feel like it’s none of your business, but beyond helping your parents navigate their unemployed years, it actually could be your responsibility. Currently, in the United States, there are thirteen states that have some form of filial support laws. These laws differ from state to state, but they require adult children to financially support their parents when their parents are unable to support themselves. This support can include paying for assisted living costs and unpaid medical bills, as well as covering expenses such as clothing, food, and shelter. Especially if you live in a state that differs from your parents, it’s important to know what the local laws are for all parties involved when handling your aging parents’ financial plan.

Estate Planning for Aging Parents

Between 2017 and 2020, the amount of Americans who said they have a will or another sort of estate planning document decreased from 42 percent to only 32 percent. If your parents are part of the 68 percent, no matter how uncomfortable, it’s important you discuss estate planning for your aging parents.

A will doesn’t only determine who gets your assets and property — although that’s an important aspect; it is the legal document that helps your family avoid disputes after your passing, provides funeral instructions, and allows the probate court to handle the legal process of overseeing the distribution of assets. Without a will, the court has to name someone as the personal representative of the estate, and this can create friction in a family during a time of mourning and grief, even if there aren’t problems prior to the passing.

Finally, it’s important to have a plan about where your aging parents will live. Whether they’re independent or needing assisted living, enhanced care or memory care, Cherrywood Pointe has a variety of locations and lifestyle options to choose from.