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Aging Parents – Reversing the Roles

October 12th, 2009

Guest Writer: Karin Mizgala MBA, CFP

I’m not sure when it happened, but sometime a few years ago I realized that tables were turning in my relationship with my parents. Although still extremely healthy and vibrant 70 years olds, my parents were starting to ask me for advice and I could feel a subtle shift in the power balance. I didn’t (and still don’t) feel ready for what’s likely to come – but whoever is?

Most of the children of aging parents that I know are busy, stressed and ill-equipped to deal with the added time and financial demands of caring for elderly parents. And often the need to step in comes during a crisis. Needless to say, this isn’t a great time to make the emotional, financial and legal decisions that are often necessary.

If at all possible, have a conversation with your parents early. Find out what your parents have in mind for their future, get a sense of where they stand financially and get an idea of the role that you and siblings might be called upon to play. None of these points is easy to talk about and there is a need to be sensitive and to respect your parents need for privacy, dignity and sense of control.

Here are some simple guidelines to help in developing a “Care-Giving Plan of Action”:

1. Start your dialogue with parents and siblings as soon as possible – strive for practicality and openness. Remind yourself, and each other, that these issues will eventually have to be faced – and that it is best to be prepared well in advance.

2. One of the chief objectives of your plan should be to maintain your parents’ self-esteem and a degree of personal independence. Studies have shown that most seniors want to stay in their own homes as long as possible.

3. Get informed. Find out what services and assistance is available in your community. Local senior’s centers can provide a wealth of information and advice.

4. Get a sense of your parents’ financial capacity and their desires. Do they have enough money to cover medical expenses, the costs of home care or a retirement home? Do they have a retirement community in mind? Would they like to live nearer to you or other family?

5. Find out where your parents keep financial and legal documents. You don’t need to know all the details unless there’s a crisis, but know how to access the information quickly and easily if something does happen.

6. Find out if your parents have up to date wills, powers of attorney and health care directives.

7. Create a list of names and contact information for doctors, lawyers, accountants, brokers, financial planners, bankers, etc.

Don’t be discouraged if you try to broach the topic with your parents and it’s a non-starter. Be patient and gently persistent. (It took a couple of glasses of red wine to get the conversation going with my Dad!)

Knowing where your parents stand on these issues and having a plan in place will save your family much grief later.

Karin Mizgala is a Vancouver-based fee-only financial planner with an MBA and a degree in psychology. She’s the President of LifeDesign Financial and co-founder of the Women’s Financial Learning Centre.

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