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Oops, I Haven’t Prepared for My Parents’ Old Age

No one wants to think about their parents getting older, but having a game plan in place early will make life much easier

The only thing scarier than getting older yourself is realizing your parents are growing older still. While you may have many years to get things in order for retirement and even death, settling things for your parents has a speedier timeline. Getting on the same page with them is an important process. It can be difficult, but making the effort now will help a great deal in the long run.

Start talking about it now

Discussing elder care and death with your parents can be traumatic. No one really wants to go into the brain space where your parents are no longer here, or are unable to make their own decisions. But it is essential. A good rule of thumb is if you’re old enough to worry about your own retirement (which should be as early as college graduation, but is typically more when you’re edging on 30), you should be talking to you parents about their plans.

If you’re an only child, you might have to go it alone, or enlist some cousins or trusted family friends to be on the planning committee. If you’ve got siblings, this is the time when you all have to work together and figure it out. Disagreements over what’s best for Mom and Dad can bring out the worst in sibling issues, and squabbles over care and money later will just add more stress. Figure it all out now, before everyone is highly emotional.

For end-of life-preparations, make sure your parents have an updated will and have clarified their wishes for memorialization and their views on medical intervention. A health care directive is also necessary to make sure those wishes are followed.

Figure out the money

If talking about health and death is difficult, money can be even more so. Get your parents to open up about where they stand, and what their plans are in the remaining years to hit a retirement goal. If you’ve set a budget for yourself, you can help them set their own budget for now, and for when they live on their retirement income alone. People in their 60s have an average of $220,000 in retirement savings, which sounds pretty good until you realize that might need to stretch for 20 or even 30 years.

One way to improve a tough financial situation is to delay retirement, if possible, for a few extra years. This gives people more time to build up income, and allows them to stretch social security farther. If your parents are contributing to an IRA, make sure they take advantage of increased contribution limits in their old age. People over 50 are allowed to give $6,500 a year, $1,000 more than everyone else.

It’s also important that your parents know what they’re legally entitled to in their old age. Veterans or surviving spouses of veterans are entitled to benefits for their care. There are counselors that can help families navigate the elaborate VA system to work this out.

Where will they live?

At some point, your parents might choose to downsize from the house where you grew up. They might also get sick, requiring different levels of care. The elder care industry is booming, as baby boomers progress to the end of their lives, and that means there’s choice in the market.

Retirement Community: For those who have already retired and want to live in a community of other folks their age and in their life stage. Often these are in places with nice weather (see: the Florida stereotype), but they exist everywhere in the country, and many people want to retire near where they lived in the first place. There’s no special medical care here, and people live independently.

Independent Senior Living: This is often the same as a retirement community, but with additional services for aging residents. The facility might bring in medical care from outside sources, or plan events around wellness.

Assisted Living: This is the in-between step, where an elderly person is somewhat independent but needs regular medical care. These places have staff in place to help take care of the patients, and organized activities.

Personal Care Homes: These are smaller than assisted living facilities, with three to 10 people in a home, and they provide hands-on care. There are often fewer activities for seniors here, because of the size.

Home care: You can pay a nurse or aid to come to where your parent lives and take care of them. This can be expensive, but if your parents’ house is paid for, you can obtain a reverse mortgage to help cover the cost. You can also have your parents move in with you to help offset housing and care costs.

Nursing home: This is the least desirable for most people. It provides a lot of care, but it’s a more medical setting, and there are very few private rooms; you can’t bring your own furniture. It feels more like a hospital and less like a home. It’s usually your last resort.

In some instances, what’s best for your family will be determined by the health of your parents. If they’re sick they may require more care than you can provide. It also can be determined by your pocketbook. There’s a range of costs for all types of living, and often social security and pension payments won’t cover it all, which is where additional retirement savings come in.

If you help your parents get on the right track now, you can help ensure that they have a relaxing, safe and comfortable retirement. With a game plan in place, your parents’ retirement won’t end up your headache.