Caring for Elderly Family Members

  Often referred to as a “sandwich generation” there are many adults these days that are caring for both their own children as well as aging family members.  Whether you have kids of your own, or they are already grown and out of the house, caring for an aging family member comes with its own unique set of challenges.  While much of the focus from people on the outside is centered around the aging individual(s), it’s also very important to ensure your own sanity and well being are not being neglected.  Here are some practical areas to consider and focus on if you find yourself caring for an aging loved one.    

Set Boundaries

  The first task is to set hard and fast boundaries for who you are willing to care for and what you are willing to do for them. Boundaries help to protect you and your life from being taken over. Maybe your boundary is that no one comes to live with you or your family. Other people may be ok with family living with them, and that is fine. The key is to be clear from the start. While setting boundaries, think about what skills you have and your capacity to care for others. Caregiver fatigue is real, and we are not all made for caregiving. You may need to plan to pay for professional caregivers (in your house or another location) or other support systems. If you are going to provide the care yourself, have a plan for how it will impact your career and income. It is not less caring to pay someone to care for your loved ones.  

Ensure their Paperwork is in Order

  With boundaries in place, it’s important for their well-being and your sanity to ensure the necessary paperwork is in place to provide support.  The first step is to get copies of their will, living will, and power of attorney paperwork.  If they don’t yet have these items completed, then find a trusted attorney and getting this completed will save so much time in the long run.  If you already have the paperwork done, here are a few areas to focus on:   Last Will and Testament – At this point, you should try to understand their wishes after they pass. This may include everything from who gets what to what funeral arrangements they may want. Look to see if anything in their will needs to be updated (such as changes in relationships, people who have passed, or other missing pieces). Also, note whom they appointed as the executor or executrix of their will.   Living Will – There is a good chance you will need this documentation while caring for your loved one. A living will, or healthcare directive should outline what care they are looking for and who will make the medical decisions for them if they can’t. The person who is appointed as medical proxy should have a copy of the living will, and it should be on file with your family members’ physician. If you have siblings or other close family members, be sure to discuss who will be the medical proxy and making the final decisions. You don’t want to be arguing about medical decisions at your loved one’s bedside in the hospital.   Power of Attorney – Depending on your State, this may be a springable and/or durable power of attorney. This document gives someone the power to make financial and/or business decisions for your family member. It is not always the same person who is the executor on the will or medical proxy. Make sure you understand who is the POA, what powers they do or don’t have, and under what circumstances they can use that power.

Planning for Finances

  With boundaries in place and paperwork sorted out, it’s important to consider your financial plan for both the aging family member as well as yourself.  These can be some difficult conversations around what everyone can afford, and how comfortable the family member may be in handing off their financial decisions to someone else.  Some bigger questions to answer are:  
  • Where are they going to live and who will pay?
  • Do they have any sort of insurance coverage that can assist?
  • Can they afford long-term care in their home or will they be aging out of the home?
  • Are there other family members or friends that are willing to help if need be?
  • Will they qualify for Medicaid in their state of residence?
  Aging isn’t easy.  However, it can be some of the best years to spend quality time together if they are planned for and discussed ahead of time.  If you are working through these issues or know someone who is, encourage them to have experts in their corner such as caregivers, attorneys, and a certified financial planner who can guide them through these decisions.  
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