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When the Roles Reverse: Caring for an Aging Parent

The most important thing to do when figuring out the cost for taking care of an aging parent is to have a conversation. This conversation would include parents, siblings and spouses (if you choose). Your goal in this conversation is to figure out what kind of care the aging parent may need, the roles the family members will play, and start to brainstorm a financial plan. Remember that this may be a sensitive topic for parents who may feel shame or be embarrassed for relying on their children for financial help and care. Be kind, patient, and compassionate and don’t push too hard for answers.

Questions you may ask:

  1. What do you need help with most?

  2. What kind of care would you like or do you anticipate needing? 

  3. What kind of lifestyle do you want? Where do you see yourself living in the future? Are there activities or connections that are particularly important to continue?

The next step is to review their finances. What kind of retirement plan do they have? What kind of insurance do they have? Figure out the amount of money they have and get an idea of their current monthly income and expenses.

There are many other additional assistance programs to help fund care and/or retirement. Make sure to look into medicare, medicaid, social security, supplemental security, and veterans benefits if applicable. In addition, there may be tax breaks for health care costs, different lengths of care, and other medical assistance that is not covered by insurance. Make sure to check those out!

While relatively healthy, have your parents locate all their important documents (if applicable):

  • Birth certificate

  • Citizenship papers

  • Death certificate of a spouse or parent

  • Deeds to cemetery plots

  • Deeds to property

  • Divorce decree

  • Insurance policies

  • Marriage certificate

  • Military discharge papers

  • Pension benefits

It may be beneficial for a parent to grant a child general power of attorney or to meet with an elder law specialist to sort out concerns, guardianship, managing money, etc. These or similar decisions would allow children to manage financial or legal matters for their parents, including signing documents for them. While it’s not a great fit for everyone, some parents have peace of mind knowing their child has access to their accounts and can make important decisions on their behalf if necessary.

If the parent has health concerns, a Geriatric Care Coordinator can be a helpful resource. These individuals could help you decide on alarms and devices to detect falls or wandering to ensure prompt medical attention when needed.

It might also be beneficial at the end of your discussions to have a third party such as a financial advisor review your financial plan and help you estimate future costs.

Your goal should be to make a finalized financial plan and monthly budget and to have care lined up for when your aging parents will absolutely need it. If there are siblings, they should each have designated responsibilities and involvement if possible. Meet with your parents’ doctors regularly so you can ask questions, be a part of the medical plan, and get appropriate medications set up.

Remember that this transition in life can be challenging for parents so be sensitive, ask questions, and get a plan in place!


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