Finding Financial Balance Between Parents and Children

A friend recently lamented about his dilemma of choosing between continuing financial support for his aging mother or helping a daughter in Texas who’d just become a single mom. My friend isn’t alone in dealing with the cost of caring for an aging parent or getting nervous about the prospect.

financial balanceAccording to the Pew Research Center, 75% of adults say that adult children have a responsibility to provide financial assistance to an elderly parent in need. By contrast, only 52% say parents have a responsibility to do the same for a grown child who needs it. The real dilemma comes when both the aging parent and grown child need the help!

Of course, a general solution is planning in advance for both situations. It’s important to have “the talk” with both generations. Does the parent have long-term care insurance, and if not, how do they plan to pay for nursing home or in-home help if necessary? What assistance can be handled through Medicare? Has the child made arrangements for day-care and does she have a job lined up for after the baby’s birth? What paternity has been established to secure the child’s financial support?

One way to break the ice with these discussions is to make it about you, rather than them. Tell both of them that you are thinking about doing estate planning and wondered what financial choices they have made. The important thing is to talk openly and honestly about their financial situations and yours. Putting everything on the table removes anxiety and can bring all three generations closer as a loving, supportive family.

Home for the Holidays? Make it Count.

rockwell thanksgivingIf you live far away from your elderly parents, there’s a good chance you’ll be traveling to visit them in their home this holiday season. It’s a good time to take an objective look at how they are coping. Skype and FaceTime may not reveal what you can observe in person, so we’ve prepared a list of things to observe during your visit. Of course, these tips apply to both Mom and Dad.

List of Observations

  1. Is the house neat, clean and orderly?
  2. Do you see signs that repairs and maintenance are overdue or being ignored?
  3. Is she walking well and maintaining her balance?
  4. If there are stairs, is she still able to navigate stairs safely, both up and down?
  5. Is she gaining or losing a significant amount of weight?
  6. How is her speech? Any signs of slurred speech? Forgetfulness mid-sentence?
  7. How is her eyesight? Is she squinting more often? Struggling to read the newspaper or unable to work her favorite crossword puzzles?
  8. How is her hearing? If she seems to be talking more loudly herself, this could be a sign of hearing loss.
  9. How is her short term memory? Does she get confused easily or ask the same questions over and over?
  10. Is she maintaining her personal appearance and cleanliness?

While you’re there, check around the house for hazards, like loose throw rugs, clutter, low lighting, and overloaded electrical outlets. Should there be grab bars installed in the bathroom? Do porch lights need replaced or locks and gates repaired?

If your mom is still driving, let her drive you somewhere during the day and again at night. Ask about her social life and request the name and phone number of her closest friends.

If any of these observations turn into concerns, find a quiet, relaxed time to talk it over with your parent(s) and share your concerns. Expect resistance or denial (it’s normal), so keep the conversation calm and short, and be sure to ask her opinion. Unless an issue appears life-threatening, share your observations with other family members after the visit, and together come up with an action plan. This could end up being the best holiday gift you could have given Mom, ever!

A Case For Living Wills

Jane’s father-in-law was a life long storyteller, loved for his quirkiness and gentle manner. His greatest delight was being surrounded by friends and family, especially if the room was in the mood for narrative. Even as he suffered from dementia, he never lost his ability to captivate an audience with wit and humor.

But there were no witty quips when one morning he awoke to a cold left arm and unable to form words to explain it. Later in the hospital, the surgeons found a clot in the arm’s main artery and multiple clots in other arteries. With lack of blood flowing to vital organs, his body was shutting down. The tingling sensation in his arm would eventually give way to excruciating pain.

Jane found it easier to take responsibility for what to do, rather than decide what not to do. Would he even survive an operation, or would he languish in intensive care only to have subsequent surgeries and prolonged pain?

sunny windowThe family never had to make the decision to intervene or not. Her father-in-law had made it for them years earlier. In a worn leather brief he’d insisted bringing to the hospital were advance directives that spelled out how he wanted to live and die. A Living Will that summarized the multiple conversations he had with his children over the years about his inevitable end of life.

He prepared these documents without knowing if he would ever need them. It turned out that he did.

He chose to have these conversations in a relaxed environment with family members, not with a busy, pressured primary care physician who may not even be in attendance in today’s fractured health care system. While not a happy thought, having these conversations when we are well encourages a more thoughtful, honest, and objective discussion among family members.

You don’t need an attorney to write a Living Will, or to appoint a health care proxy (a trusted friend or relative who can make decisions for a patient when they can’t). For answers to questions about documenting a Living Will in Ohio, the Ohio State Bar is a helpful resource.

As for Jane’s story, she was with her father-in-law on the last day of his life. As sunlight beamed through the windows of his room, his eyes shined with hope. He was dying as he wished, at home, surrounded by love and family.