One of the sobering realities for many people in their 40s and 50s is that they’re watching Mom and Dad get older. Seeing our parents age brings with it a host of emotions and raises a flurry of unsettling questions. Will my parents face an imminent health crisis? Are they financially prepared for the future? Is their estate in order, or will my siblings and I one day have to deal with a confusing financial mess? These and a long list of other questions can be tough to ask.
That’s why we appreciate this recent Kiplinger article written by Kelli Kiemli, a certified investment adviser and fiduciary. In her article, Kiemli deals head-on with the emotionally-charged issues surrounding parents growing older, and she offers some helpful and constructive ways to approach the questions and concerns that have to be raised. Moreover, she adds, if you approach the issue the right way, you can even find some fun along the way.
Uncomfortable and Scary: The Reality of Parents Aging
Kiemli begins her article with the tough truth: “Discussing or even thinking about our parents growing older can be uncomfortable and scary, but it’s something that is inevitable, and therefore critical to talk about.”
As uncomfortable and emotionally fraught as these conversations can be, it’s important to make sure that everyone is on the same page. Kiemli says, “Finding the courage to have a fearless conversation with your family by bringing everyone together – parents, siblings, grandchildren and other relatives who will play an important role — will only help for a smoother transition as the aging process continues.”
Easier said than done, you might say! But Kiemli brings wisdom and good humor to the table, and offers a handful of great tips and ideas to help your conversations go as smoothly as possible.
Fearless Conversations about Health, Housing, Finances
Step one, according to Kiemli, is knowing what your parents’ desires are “in terms of where they want to grow older and how you can support them in accomplishing this goal.”
“Whether they plan to stay in their home or eventually move is a big decision, both for personal comfort and for financial reasons,” she explains. “It’s important to understand their desired housing and health care goals while also having a realistic understanding of their financial picture.”
Along with this foundational series of questions, Kiemli suggests thinking about other logistical day-to-day life things, like, “What is the planned budget? Who will handle finances? If they plan to stay in their home, who will grocery shop, deal with house maintenance, et cetera?” She further suggests that families intentionally look into getting aging parents the assistance they require for house maintenance and other chores, since it can take a physical toll on aging adults to do all of those things themselves.
For some families, the preferred option is to have a parent move into the home of one of the adult children. This can certainly work, and many families do this, but Kiemli cautions, “This is a big decision, so make sure to evaluate from all angles, because this can take a huge toll on both the parent and the caregiver. Making sure all siblings are involved in these conversations ensures there are no surprises or hurt feelings.”
Technology and Safety in a Rapidly Changing World
Technology can be a huge help to older adults, but it can also be a dizzying thing to keep up with safely. “I know my own grandparents (92 and 87) greatly depend on the family to help troubleshoot their technology,” Kiemli relates.
It’s important for your aging loved one to have someone they can turn to for help in this area. “Having someone who can help with tech questions is imperative, and if that person is you, try to be understanding and available to them as needed. You can also do technology ‘classes’ with them regularly, which can be quality bonding time as well.”
Online safety is a huge issue for aging adults, as we’ve discussed on the AgingOptions blog before. Scam artists are not shy about targeting older adults for identity theft and other crimes. So Kiemli advises “setting up a password storage system like LastPass to store unique passwords all in one place” to keep your parents’ information safe.
But the Internet has plenty of benefits for aging adults, too. Kiemli highlights ride-sharing services to help them to safely travel to appointments, shopping, and social gatherings, and video-call apps can help them connect with family and friends from a distance.
It’s Not All About Serious Topics!
Kiemli is quick to assure us that your talks with your parents don’t have to be all boring and business-like. “They can be an opportunity to talk about some fun stuff, too,” she says.
She lists a handful of fun topics in detail in the full article, but we especially enjoyed that she mentioned senior discounts, national park lifetime passes, and free wellness programs as fun perks of being 65+. “There are a number of discounts available for seniors, everything from restaurants and airline tickets to movie theaters and rental cars,” she says. “If you ask, there may be a discount that you didn’t even know about!” She offers a link to one list called The Senior List that includes several possibilities to check out. Discussing these types of things with aging parents turns an emotionally-charged conversation into a positive experience.
Another lovely idea that Kiemli highlights is using your talks with your parents to set up a family tree. “Working on a family tree together will capture stories from your aging family members in a fun and unique bonding experience and help contribute to your family culture,” she says. “Have your parents identify people in old photos, tell their stories and complete a full picture of your family tree. You can even record some of these conversations, which will become treasures for years after they’re gone.”
Essential Items on the Legal To-Do List
Along with the fun stuff there is, of course, some nitty-gritty legal stuff to cover, too. “Having a plan while everyone is healthy is the best option, so we advise that this happens sooner rather than later,” Kiemli says. The most important documents that Kiemli focuses on in her article are the family trust and will, health care directive, and durable power of attorney.
The will is perhaps self-explanatory, but Kiemli explains that you want to make sure that it’s as up-to-date as possible “so that if something were to happen, your parents’ wishes are in place for assets to transfer as desired. They should be reviewed every couple of years to ensure the correct people are still in place to help with a smooth transition.”
The health care directive is a plan in place for treatment preferences in case of an accident or serious illness. “Since this can happen anytime, why not have a conversation dedicated to their end-of-life and care concerns?” Kiemli advises. “This would help you understand their wishes and potentially mitigate a lot of emotional pain over future decisions. Be sure to have a copy of this document readily available.”
A durable power of attorney is an incredibly essential document to have in place—and make sure that everyone in the family understands what it says before anything occurs, including dementia or other mental decline. “Ensuring that the aging parent has the person they want in charge before this happens is necessary – if not, family dynamics might take over, which can be problematic, especially when emotions are running high. The family dominator or know-it-all might take over, even if that’s not what the parent wants.”
Ask Your Folks About Leaving a Legacy
Last but not least, Kiemli encourages discussing the leaving of a legacy with your aging loved ones. “Leaving a legacy for children, extended family or a favorite charity is oftentimes an important item on many of our clients’ checklists,” she says. “Luckily for them, there are a variety of ways to give, both before and after they pass.”
Kiemli provided her list of ways to give, and we have quoted it here verbatim:
- Gifting stocks.
- Giving cash gifts while still alive, so you can see the money go to good use. (This should only be done once you confirm that you are fully funded and are able to achieve all of your goals.)
- Creating a scholarship at a favorite alma mater.
- Donating to a donor-advised fund (DAF) so you can contribute to your favorite charity and get immediate tax deductions.
- Giving away non-financial gifts that you want certain people to inherit.
She concludes, “This list can be endless and is unique to each individual – so spend the time reflecting and planning what your legacy should look like within your larger plan.”
Take Things One Step at a Time
Most of all, Kiemli advises patience and grace with all of these conversations, both the tough ones and the fun ones. “Each step you take brings your family closer together and gives your parents the comfort of knowing you will always be there for them, even as times get difficult.”
And she adds a triumphant conclusion: “Here’s to fearless conversations that lead to action for well-lived lives today and tomorrow!”
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(originally reported at www.kiplinger.com)