When adults step in to help their aging parents, they can pay a steep cost, both financially and emotionally. But getting organized, enlisting help, and even redefining the work can help to ease the burden.
Millions of Americans care in some way for their aging parents. And doing so is even tougher for those who are simultaneously caring for kids of their own. Some 11 million Americans provide unpaid care to an adult while also caring for children in their home, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving.
For many, caring for aging parents feels like a responsibility that was inherited rather than freely chosen, and that can lead to anxiety, frustration, and resentment. Flipping the script can help you feel more empowered. When you set goals for yourself and your kids like funding a comfortable retirement or providing a top-notch education, you do so proactively and with a sense of optimism. By envisioning the support of your parents as a meaningful goal to be achieved, you can reframe your help in a positive light while creating a sense of purpose and control.
One key to planning is to spell your goals out as part of a comprehensive financial plan that can be updated over time. A good financial plan will put parental support in context as just one of your goals. It can help to ensure that your personal priorities will be funded and won’t get crowded out by your commitments to others. Your financial advisor is always happy to discuss financial planning with you. Here are a few additional tips for staying emotionally and financially healthy while supporting elderly parents.
- Understand your cash flows. If you’re supporting parents financially, it’s important to identify how much you’re spending on them each month and how much you’re spending on yourself and your nuclear family. Financial anxiety grows when you’re not sure just where the money is going. And having a clear picture of your financial commitment to your parents allows you to more effectively balance your own needs against those of your parents.
- Pad your emergency fund. Those providing elder support can also allay anxiety by increasing their emergency savings. Knowing that you won’t have to scramble to help with a home repair, medical emergency or other surprise expense can help you to sleep at night.
- Learn about your parents’ finances. You’ll want to have a clear picture of your parents’ assets, debts, expenses, and income, and you’ll need to know where key documents are in case your parents are incapacitated or suffer memory loss. Remember, key documents may be digital rather than paper. Access to online accounts is important as well. Don’t be surprised if patience and persistence are required to get parents to open up about their finances. Most value their privacy and independence and don’t want to feel their kids are taking care of them. In opening lines of communication with older parents, it’s important to empathize and avoid condescension, as we noted in a recent article.
- Get expert help. Those arranging in-home care or researching assisted living facilities can have a hard time navigating all the choices and understanding funding sources and tax rules. It can be well worth it to hire an elder care professional who can guide you through the process.
- Share the load. Siblings and other family members can also help shoulder the burden of caring for parents. If at all possible, divide the responsibilities. One sibling might pay the bills, while another research in-home care providers. For example, a rotation can be set up to check in regularly with mom or dad. At the same time, it’s critical for siblings to understand who has power of attorney and an advance healthcare directive, as that person will be legally able to make healthcare and financial decisions if the parent becomes unable to do so.
Finally, if you’re a key support provider for a parent, you should have a contingency plan in case you become unable to continue. In some cases, that might include setting up trusts to replace financial support.
We’re not suggesting caring for aging parents will be easy. Among other things, it can be a disorienting reversal of roles. But intentional planning, clear communication, and sharing responsibilities with other family members can help you protect your emotional and financial wellbeing even as you provide support.