It’s been a little over a year since my mom passed and since that time I have become acutely aware of how many of my peers will play the role of caregiver, care coordinator, or financial fiduciary for an aging parent, spouse, or loved one. I spent 8 years caring for my mom while, at the same time, I was raising my children and running my business as a Financial Advisor to well over a 100 clients. As difficult as it all was, I am grateful for all I learned. For example, I discovered that both these conflicting situations are true as the role of care giver becomes prominent in your life:
- It hits you like a tornado, without warning; or,
- It creeps in ever so slowly so it is hard to see the gradual changes over time.
Be Prepared to Care
Regardless of the circumstances that lead you to this new role, you may find yourself overwhelmed and somewhat confused. You become tasked with many new functions for which you had no previous job training. The position usually entails performing all of the everyday life activities, like paying bills, home maintenance, and food preparation for an adult who has previously been independent and is now incapacitated and dependent on you. Additionally, you may be navigating the medical system on their behalf while coordinating varying levels of care from a range of professionals.
Within the past few months, five of my clients became in need of care and assistance. Four dealt with a sudden and unexpected medical issue and another had been struggling physically for many months. In all situations but one, they had followed my recommendations early on to prepare the necessary advanced directives and legal documents to alleviate some of the stress for their loved one. Unfortunately, one family waited two years to organize their plan and, as a result, lost precious time to transfer assets for Medicaid planning. Those who had documents in place were far more prepared to manage their situation quickly.
Throughout the process, I spent many hours talking with the sons, daughters, and friends of these clients to educate them about terminology, review their many options, and mostly to reassure them that they were doing the very best that they could do. I provided support and guidance so they could make the best possible decisions for their loved ones.
It may seem curious that the Financial Advisor is taking this role with clients and their families but I believe this is the holistic value of wealth planning. When stressful times affect your ability to think straight, who better to turn to than the advisor who knows the most intimate details of your family’s goals, relationships, and of course, finances. I have often heard that people will share the details of their sex life with a friend long before they will disclose their salary or details of their finances. Thankfully the very opposite is true when it comes to the Financial Advisor!
Get your documents in order
The first step is for every family is to have the basic financial and legal documents for every person over the age of 18:
- Durable Power of Attorney- this document allows another individual (agent) to act upon your behalf in financial transactions. The difference between the “durable” versus “general” power is that with the durable POA, the agent can act when you become medically incapacitated.
- Health Care Proxy – this document sometimes called “Advanced Directives” allows another person to make health care decisions in case you become incapable of making your wishes known. Your designated proxy would have access to information and most importantly have the same rights to request or refuse medical treatment on your behalf.
- Will – this is a legal document that states your wishes regarding the disposal of your personal property or estate after death and the care of any minor children.
These three documents should be created by a qualified attorney and in place in the event of any unexpected illness. Even your college-aged child should, at minimum, have a health care proxy in place to allow you to speak with a doctor, hospital, or school on their behalf in the event that they are unable to communicate. Additional documents may be created on the advice of legal counsel depending on the complexity of the assets, size of estate, and desires of the client.
Get the conversation started
The next step is to ‘normalize’ the topic of long term care by starting the conversation. Talking about aging and all the issues surrounding it is something so many of us simply want to avoid. Let’s face it - we just don’t want it to happen- so we avoid it altogether.
From my personal experience, I was always able to discuss financial matters easily with my mom because they were not as emotionally charged as discussing her fear of losing capacity. It was my suggestion to meet with an attorney that enabled us to get the conversation started and to update her documents.
I also suggest you become introduced to your parents’ trusted financial advisor and use that time to review their long-term care plan. Using an event like an annual or semi-annual financial review with a neutral third party may help to keep emotions in check while discussing ideas and options for the future. Also, creating a schedule for the conversation will make sure it doesn’t get pushed under the rug or ruin a wonderful Thanksgiving meal.
Get help from professionals
I asked friends and clients what were their biggest challenges were when dealing with the long-term care of their aging parent. The answer was not a surprise; it was dealing with their own emotions while living through their parents’ end of life. Others shared that it was the difficulty of dealing with their siblings during this highly stressful time. Financial details, time management, and medical care were issues that were not as challenging for them because they were able to rely on professionals for help.
In my case, I turned to the guidance and support of many professionals including a Geriatric Psychiatrist, Social Worker, and Elder Care Attorney. Frequently, I spoke with my brother who is a Clinical Psychologist to discuss our feelings throughout the long process of providing care to my mom. I was thankful for that help.
If we learned anything from 2020
This year, more than ever, we can see how life can turn on a dime. The tragic and completely unexpected severity of COVID-19 has hit all of us hard in too many ways. Take the initiative: get yourself prepared.
- Now is the time to get your documents in order.
- Speak to your parent or loved one, as well as their advisors, to start the conversations.
- Plan to rely on the professionals to assist you to make this process easier for you.
Don’t hesitate for a moment to contact me; I will support you with the many resources and insight I have.