Talk With Your Parents About Long-Term Care and Their Future

Odds are, your parents will need long-term care someday. Have you had a conversation with them about that yet?

Don’t say it won’t happen to your parents. At least 70% of people over age 65 will require some form of long-term care services and support during their lives. (From 2015 Medicare & You, National Medicare Handbook, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, September 2014.)

Yet many families find it difficult to start this conversation and continue to put it off…until it’s too late. Don’t let that happen to you!

We’ve prepared a Special Report, How to Have “The Conversation” With Your Parents. This Free Legal Guide provides you with tips about how to start this important conversation and what to say, so that you can protect your parents, their home and their retirement savings.

We almost didn’t have this conversation

In my own family, this conversation almost didn’t happen. My dad was 71, actively running his own insurance agency, and building a new home in the country himself. Then out of the blue he had a major stroke late one night and immediately my mom (who is not even 5 feet tall) managed to get him out of the house and rushed him to the small community hospital a few miles away. From there he was helicoptered to a major medical facility about 50 miles away. A friend drove my mom to the hospital where things were touch and go. We children were called in from the several states, and we watched and waited for news of recovery. Thankfully, dad made a newly full recovery. Every day after that stroke, we considered his life as a gift until another major…and also completely unexpected… stroke took him from us suddenly to his eternal life.

In the intervening years, there were ups and downs for dad’s (and mom’s health). We made sure to talk about where my parents would live, and what they wanted, and how they would pay for long-term care if it were needed. Frankly, what they wanted didn’t always fit with reality (as we saw it at least), but that was what they wanted and we understood that they were going to keep building that big home in the country and living out there for as long as they could. Mom would have been fine living in town, but dad’s dream was still to be in the house he built. However, as his health slowed some, and we continued the conversation, it became clear to dad that both he and mom would be better off in town. They downsized, found a duplex in great shape and settled in to a life unburdened by the large house and within half a mile of local hospital. It was a happy day when that happened, and our entire family was on the same page.

We also made sure that they had in place Health Care Powers of Attorney (for medical decisions) and Financial Powers of Attorney (for financial and property matters). We found out where important papers were, and we also started to talk about some of the stories that only he and mom could tell. Now with his deep voice silent forever, we only wish we had more time to talk. Life is sweet, and it can be short. Now we’re even more focused on making sure we know what mom’s hopes and goals are for her future, and possible care needs down the road.

Before the unexpected happens, be sure to talk

Looking back, what would have happened if dad had been left incapacitated from his first major stroke? Thankfully, he didn’t need to move to a nursing home for long-term care. Thankfully, we could have some meaningful discussions. But it was every bit as possible that he could have recovered in body but been left unable to speak or talk or understand. We would have been left wondering what he would have wanted for care, and we would have to go to court to get someone to wind down his business. Mom couldn’t have accessed the bank accounts that were just in dad’s name, including his IRAs. If he had needed a lengthy nursing home stay, my parents assets could have been severely depleted while we scrambled to figure out finances, leaving mom with almost nothing to live on.

We were granted a second chance and we leaped at the opportunity. If you’re living each day presuming that tomorrow will be pretty much the same as today, wake up! Be sure to reassess your parents’ health realistically. You may find that as you’ve been hard at work with your career or family, your parents have grown older to the point where they are likely to need help soon. Or, they may be doing fine, but their health changes in a single heartbeat.

Before it’s too late, start “the Conversation,” but feel comfortable. Don’t make too much of it. Simply give it a try. After you try if it doesn’t work, you can always regroup and try again. Anything important is worth some effort.

Many people will say that they would prefer for things to stay just the way they are. They’d like to keep their dignity and independence, and high quality of life. Many are concerned about finances especially when late in life health care and long-term care expenses threaten their retirement savings. And a common comment is that parents don’t want to be a burden on their children. Having these conversations can help families to understand these expectations, and to plan for a pleasant and more comfortable future. You will both know what can be realistic, and to get other family members to agree with the current plans.

You’ll (and your parents) will feel better

After you’ve broached this topic, you may feel like a barrier has fallen, at least a little. You’ll feel better for trying, and you’ll have an opportunity to get to know more about what your parent is thinking, too. Most likely your parent will respect your efforts to bridge this understanding. It’s important to continue this conversation as the months and years passes.

When you talk with your parents about these topics, especially the first time, be sure to allow plenty of time. Don’t be rushed or have to cut off the conversation. Plan to talk in person, face to face and with eye contact. That might be using Facetime or Skype if you can’t be present, but its great to get visual cues from the conversation. Be sure to keep a sense of humor, and to smile and laugh even about these serious topics that can become overly serious. And you never know where the conversation will lead. If the conversation meandered away from the areas you need to talk about, that’s ok. Just have a plan to talk again, for agreed next steps to feel like you’ve both made progress toward a better understanding.

In the weeks after my dad’s stroke that took him from this world, I’ve smiled through the tears about the memories that remained. We know just how blessed we were with a second chance to have conversations that made sure my parents had a better life, and they understood we would be there for them. They didn’t need to worry about being a burden and we had a better understanding of what lie ahead to be ready. Now, I only wish we could have some more of those conversations with dad…and I look forward to more of them with mom. Yet I’m glad for what we were able to talk about and to plan in the time we had. You will be too.

Your parents may be waiting for you to bring up the opportunity…so what are you waiting for?

You never know what life has in store for your parents…and neither do they! Today is a a great time to get started to understand their plans for retirement and future health care, as the need arises. And it all starts ask if they have a minute to talk.