If you’ve listened to Rajiv Nagaich of AgingOptions for any length of time, or read articles here on the AgingOptions Blog, you know that a recurring theme in just about everything we teach or advocate about retirement comes down to one word: preparation. While it’s true that none of us has a crystal ball, there are many things we can anticipate and plan for as we or our loved ones grow older. Yet the sad reality is that untold thousands of families stumble into age-related crises every year because they failed to prepare.
Those thoughts came to mind as we read this recent Kiplinger article by reporter Janet Bodnar. In it, Bodnar sounds a warning we echo loud and clear: if you and your aging loved ones don’t have any form of care plan in place – or if you aren’t even aware of how your loved one wants to live as he or she grows older – the time to start the conversation is now.
Many Fail to Consider Caregiving in Their Plans
Bodnar makes it clear right from the start that she receives a fair number of emails from readers of Kiplinger who never assumed they would be caregivers, but have found themselves involved in the physical and/or financial care of a family member.
Bodnar quotes from one of these emails: “Reader Ira Worden writes that after his father became mentally incompetent, he took over his father’s duties as trustee of a family trust and managed his mother’s finances. ‘But my father had been faking being okay for a while, which I learned after I managed to figure things out,’ says Worden. ‘This was not an easy or planned handoff!’”
Sadly, it’s a common tale that many people tend to focus on the fun parts of retirement when they plan—hobbies, family time, moving to a new area—but too seldom make the important elder care decisions that will see them through the rest of their lives.
Communication Gap Described as “Stunning”
“If you’re a caregiver, or you are concerned that you may become a caregiver in the future or that you may someday need care yourself, it’s critical that you broach the topic with your parents or your adult children,” Bodnar writes. “Yet when it comes to talking about a parent’s future wishes, the communication gap between parents and their adult kids is stunning.”
Stunning is precisely the right word. According to Fidelity Investments, an incredible 72 percent of parents in the study expected that they will receive long-term care from one of their children – and yet 40 percent of those cited children had zero idea that their parents had planned that way. “Similarly,” Bodnar adds, “nearly 70 percent of parents expect one of their children to help manage their investments and retirement finances, but 36 percent of the kids involved didn’t know that.”
And the problem goes even deeper, as “one-third of families disagreed as to whether children knew where to find important family documents, such as wills, powers of attorney and health care proxies,” Bodnar writes. “And 43 percent of parents indicated they have not had detailed conversations with family members about long-term care and elder care—and an additional 23 percent have not had any conversations at all.”
That’s a whole lot of miscommunication, likely destined to trigger an incredible amount of sorrow, anxiety, confusion, and even acrimony in the future. And it can all be easily avoided with a few well-placed conversations.
Growing Old is a Family Affair
Bodnar returns to the story of Ira Worden, one of the readers who reached out to her. He and his wife have no children, but he’s still adamant about avoiding any confusion like what he had to experience after his father died. To that end, “they hold an annual family meeting that includes grown nieces and nephews. ‘We discuss anything and everything, including financial and health topics,’ he says.”
While some families might find it more anxiety-inducing to be upfront about aging and elder care, research shows that people are mostly interested in talking about it, they just don’t know how. “In a survey by The Conversation Project,” Bodnar explains, “95 percent of respondents said they are willing or want to talk about end-of-life wishes; 53 percent said they’d be relieved if a loved one started a conversation.”
Starting the conversation doesn’t have to be blunt, however. As the adult child, you could begin by asking your loved one non-confrontational questions, like “How do you think you’ve been doing with X?” or “How would you feel about Y?” Most importantly, while everyone should have a voice in the discussion, your parents should always have the last word about their desires, as long as they’re able to do so.
Make Sure All Adult Siblings Are Included
“One key part of the conversation is to make sure all siblings and adult children play a role in elder care,” Bodnar writes. “A study by Northwestern Mutual found that the responsibility for caregiving most likely falls on the shoulders of one sibling, rather than being shared among all the children.”
But experts agree that caregiving should never be a solo affair, and no one gets to avoid responsibility. “If one child is handling Mom or Dad’s personal care, others can be taking care of home maintenance, ordering medications online, handling the bills and paperwork, or giving the primary caregiver a much-needed respite,” Bodnar writes.
Keep Expectations Modest – and Consider Outside Help
Bodnar’s conclusion sound wise. When you broach the conversation “Go easy, in the beginning. Don’t overthink it, and keep expectations low. You can always return to the subject later.” We might add that you consider letting a third party host a family conference. Our legal partner, Life Point Law, has hosted a great number of these helpful sessions with family members.
As Rajiv Nagaich of AgingOptions points out, a so-called care plan – as helpful as it may seem – is actually less important than knowing who will be called upon to guide the essential care decisions when ill health strikes. “We cannot always know what will be needed or what the care issues will be,” Rajiv states. “That’s why building an actual care plan is not as critical as knowing how your loved one will get the care he or she needs, without the family having to do the heavy lifting. Make that decision early on and everyone feel much less anxious and more prepared.”
Rajiv also offers another helpful solution for families. “There’s something extremely helpful about having a family conference in a neutral setting,” he says. “People can speak more openly, and an attorney can ask questions a parent or adult child might not be able to.” Rajiv adds, “I’ve seen families come to the office tense and angry, and leave with a spirit of relief and clarity. We’d love to do that for your family.” Just contact AgingOptions and ask for assistance.
My Life, My Plan, My Way: Get Started on the Path to Retirement Success
At AgingOptions we believe the key to a secure retirement is the right retirement plan – yet statistics show that 70 percent of retirement plans fail. That’s why for nearly two decades we’ve been dedicated to the proposition that a carefully-crafted, fully comprehensive retirement plan is the best answer to virtually any contingency life may throw your way as you age. Our slogan says it all: My Life, My Plan, My Way.
When it comes to retirement planning, most people focus on one fairly narrow issue: money. Financial planning is an important component of retirement planning. However, people heading towards retirement often make the mistake of thinking that a little financial planning is all that’s required, when in fact most financial plans are woefully inadequate. What about your medical coverage? What if you have to make a change in your housing status – will that knock your financial plan off course? Are you adequately prepared legally for the realities of retirement and estate planning? And is your family equipped to support your plans for the future as you age?
The best way we know of to successfully blend all these elements together – finance, medical, housing, legal and family – is with a LifePlan from AgingOptions. Thousands of people have discovered the power of LifePlanning and we encourage you to the same. Simply visit our website and discover a world of retirement planning resources. Make certain your retirement planning is truly comprehensive and complete with an AgingOptions LifePlan. Age on!
(originally reported at www.kiplinger.com)