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Tough Love 2: Parenting your parents


By Brian D. Kilb

As lifespans increase, many people have the blessing of parents and grandparents as an ever greater part of their lives. With that longer life expectancy come greater challenges – and opportunities, including chances to pay back your parents for the guidance and support they offered you through the years. Here are some suggestions.

1)   Get a handle on finances.

Sandwich generation
Many baby boomers are finding themselves spread between providing for their children and extending care to their own parents. In an earlier article, Brian Kilb offered advice on middle-aged parents dealing with still-dependent adult children.

To help your parents, you need to understand their situation. Inquire about their financial circumstances. Make sure they have adequately planned for their estate. By sharing those details, they open the door for you to be of service. Determining their financial stability can help lay the groundwork for many decisions down the road. Seeking professional advice can help. Often clients bring their parents in to meet with me to get the ball rolling.

2)   Get their house in order.

Perhaps the most avoided decision aging parents face is deciding when to move out of the house. Help them by promoting a civil discussion about when and where they should move. Many big decisions like this are “event-driven” – with outside circumstances, such as a dramatic decline in health, forcing change. Like all matters relating to planning, you want to be in control. You will have far greater success, as defined by your parents’ happiness, if you take the time to think ahead. Determine what criteria should trigger a move, and research your options 

3)   Understand their medical plans.

No decision is more difficult than being forced to determine whether life-sustaining care should be continued for a loved one. Medical power of attorney is a legal document designed to define and authorize what care is to be sustained when health is permanently compromised. Talk with your parents about what choices should be made on their behalf. When everyone agrees, make sure the instructions are formalized legally and understood. You may be called on someday to provide support or be the decision maker for end-of-care decisions. Making that gut-wrenching call will be much easier if you know your parents’ wishes in advance.

4)   Keep them safe.

Look out for your parents. Visit often and watch for signs of deterioration. If you pay attention, you can pick up on clues that their situation might be getting worse. Check to see that they’re taking required medicines. Have they lost weight or seemed unusually slower? A little help with the house now could save repair costs or lost value later. The expression “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is apt.

More information
Links to further resources on dealing with aging issues are embedded in this article. Click where you see underscored words. 

5)   Help make the tough decisions.

Saying “No” to your parents is no easier than saying it to your kids. But it can be just as necessary. It’s hard for aging parents to give up their freedoms. Driving is one example. When driving skills have diminished appreciably, it brings danger not only to your parents but to others. Work with your mom or dad to share the burden of making and communicating such decisions. Put yourself in their position. Try reasoning with them. But be firm.

6)   Assign responsibility and delegate.

As a financial advisor, I’m in the middle of many family conversations over who will take responsibility for the needs of aging parents. Rarely do I see the process unfold without one sibling feeling a far greater workload. Discuss upfront how to share in the tasks equally. Whether you are nearby or 1,000 miles apart, there are plenty of ways to help. A thoughtful conversation at the first signs of trouble will save countless hours of anxiety as things get worse.

Guiding your own children as they grow and face challenges can at times be a daunting responsibility. Offering your parents guidance and support as they face the challenges of aging can also be a load to bear. You have a chance to pay them back for being good parents by being part of their lives as you work together to help them age with grace and dignity.

Brian Kilb is executive vice president and chief operating officer of Landaas & Company.

initially posted May 9, 2012

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