Your parents taught you well: Discussing money is not OK. Salaries, savings, inheritances, debt, insurance and net worth are not subjects to be discussed outside the bonds of marriage, except maybe with a discreet lawyer or accountant.
In fact, if you’re like most middle-aged adults, Mom and Dad taught you so well, that you don’t have a clue about their finances. And even now, you’re reluctant to ask. You can imagine your mother, with a slight edge to her voice, saying “Don’t worry about that, dear. We’ll be fine.” Or your father grunting, “Why do you want to know?”
Caring for elderly parents is a tricky subject. Money is a powerful symbol of control and self-sufficiency, the very things that tend to ebb away as you age. So, approach the topic with sensitivity and understanding. But don’t shy away from it altogether and wait for a crisis to occur. Trying to sort out finances in the emergency room just adds to stress and uncertainty. The best plans come together when everyone understands the options available, and when your parents are still lucid enough to discuss their preferences.
First, ask your parents to consider their choices for long-term living arrangements. Then, find out how those preferences can be financed.
- If your parents, like most seniors, express a strong preference for staying in their home, begin a program of readying the house for less-agile occupants. Consult with aging-in-place experts to find out the cost of making floors, doors, bathrooms and bedrooms senior-friendly. Find out how much money your parents can reasonably spend on space revisions and accommodations.
- Consider the cost if Mom became increasingly frail and needed home care. The average cost of a home health aide in the United States is $20 per hour and that can add up fast. What if Dad could no longer drive? Are there transportation options where your folks live, or will they become increasingly isolated if they stay in rural Pennsylvania?
- Some seniors would rather give up the hassle and upkeep of home ownership. If that’s the case, find out what income might be generated by selling the family home. Begin pricing senior housing options that include assisted living and retirement communities.
- Of course, living at home or in a senior community may not be a final option. Eventually, one or both of your parents could need long-term, hands-on care. If you wait to look into nursing homes “if and when the time comes,” be prepared for sticker shock. The average annual cost of a nursing home is more than $80,000 and varies significantly depending on where you live.
- School yourself on the differences between Medicare and Medicaid. Medicare will pay for rehabilitation and temporary care, but it will not pay for long-term care. Medicaid will, but you have to qualify. For most people, that means spending down any assets some time before long-term care is actually needed. And Medicaid is administered through state agencies and policies vary from state to state.
- Many people don’t realize that a veteran may be entitled to long-term care benefits, including home care. My father, who suffered from dementia, spent four years in a Soldier’s Home where he received very good care. If you have the patience and persistence to slog through paper work and bureaucracy, the payoff may be significant.
Talking to your parents about financing care as they age is a conversation most of us prefer to avoid. The good news is that planning ahead often leads to better options. Consult eldercare experts to start the process, preferably before your loved ones need emergency intervention. For more information on senior care solutions, go to www.care.com.
Jody Gastfriend is the Vice President of Senior Care Services at Care.com, where she focuses on providing supportive content to parents, caregivers and elders. A licensed clinical social worker with more than 25 years of experience, Jody has consulted to individuals, professional societies and corporations in the field of eldercare. Jody has lectured widely to family caregivers, HR administrators, healthcare professionals and policymakers on topics ranging from caregivers in the workplace and aging, to work/family integration. Jody received her BA, Magna Cum Laude, from Tufts University, and her Masters Degree in Social Work from Simmons College School of Social Work.
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