It is inevitable that a transfer of decision making from parent to child will occur at some point in a parent’s life. So, what will this look like? It can be messy with hurt feelings, lost money, and inadequate care. Or, it can be wonderful with enriched relationships, gratitude, and peace of mind for all.
The messy situations occur when people avoid the necessary conversations. This costly mistake has monetary and emotional implications. Consider the cost of care giving, missing work, and illnesses that often arise from caregiver stress. Imagine the conflicts when philosophical differences occur among siblings.
The best scenario is when conversations are initiated by the parent. If this does not happen, children should begin speaking to their parents early, while parents are healthy. Don’t wait for the crisis! Once the crisis hits, the learning curve is steep and time is often short. Without prior guidance from parents, children are left with little direction and parents lose control over decisions.
Where to Begin as a Caretaker
Conversations can be tricky if the parent is reluctant. Acknowledge that it is a difficult topic. You may want to start with topics that are less emotional such as the legal paperwork – do they have a will, power of attorney, and medical power of attorney? Next, inquire about where bank accounts are held, what insurance policies have been purchased and where these and other important documents are located. Create a list of the appropriate professionals: lawyer, accountant, wealth manager, insurance broker and their contact information. The inquiry should not end with the paperwork. Aging plans must consider living arrangements, lifestyle choices, distribution of personal items, when to relinquish financial responsibly and when the parent should delegate medical decisions.
There is much information that must be gathered and decisions that often require deliberation. Recognize that this is a process and manage expectations. Aging plans are usually not defined after just one meeting.
Caregiver Family Meetings
It is important to engage all of the members of the family in family meetings. Ideally, you want everyone (parents and siblings) on the same page. When the conversation begins however, this is not always the case. Each individual brings their own perspectives and agendas to the table. Complicating this is differences in siblings’ financial and emotional situations and geographical locations.
A family meeting is a good opportunity for each person to voice their thoughts and concerns and identify how they can and cannot contribute to the situation. This is a good time to take an inventory of the strengths of the players. If someone is in the medical profession or financial profession they may be the logical person to fill particular roles. A primary caretaker must be identified. The family may discover that there are significant philosophical differences among the sibling and parents on what they want and their ability to participate in the care. If the differences are too wide to reconcile, families may consider engaging in a professional facilitator.
The ultimate goal is for the family to be in agreement on the aging plan.
As you and your family put your plans together, consider trigger points. These can be a powerful tool for determining when a person should relinquish responsibility. A trigger point is a particular circumstance or situation that causes an event to occur. For example, a parent may agree to take a vision test annually. When he is no longer able to pass successfully, he relinquishes all driving or just driving at night.
The trigger point and the consequence are specific to each individual. Both the trigger point and consequence must be identified by the parents while they are able to make these decisions. It is best to document these decisions as part of the aging plan. This activity is not about losing power and control, but rather gaining security and freedom by deciding for oneself when and how to respond to cognitive and physical changes.
If cognitive decline has already set in – the crisis has already hit! DO NOT ignore these signs. People are very crafty at hiding cognitive decline. What you are seeing as the child may only be the tip of the iceberg. A good place to start in this situation is making an appointment with a reliable MD (preferably a neurologist). Even if there is no official diagnosis, the medical professional can identify signs of decline. Regardless of the recommendation, it is time to begin planning.
It’s Their Lives
Throughout the entire planning process and even after the child begins to take initiative in care-taking, it is essential that parents feel respected and part of the decision making. For example:
- Enable Independence – Allow parents to handle as much as they can on their own or with your gentle guidance.
- Give Options – Do the research on a purchase or service decision and then narrow it down to three choices – let them make the final choice
- Respect their Limitations – Don’t move bill paying or other financial transitions online unless the parent is comfortable using a computer.
Too often, well-intended children want to push their own lifestyles, household processes, and habits onto their parents. This may not be the wishes of the parents; it’s critical to remember that parents, though physically and cognitively changing, are adults. The more respect, ownership, and decision making you give them in the planning process, the better the aging process will unfold for all of you.
By following these guidelines both parents and children can participate in a planning process that results in a clear plan, strengthened relationships, and independence.