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Your Aging Parents Need Care: What Can You Do?

A big and growing issue for adult children is how to handle the tough situations that may arise from looking after their elderly parents. For some good ideas, we asked Maureen Crimmins, co –founder of Crimmins Wealth Management in Ramsey, N.J.:

Larry Light: This is a difficult subject.

Maureen Crimmins: Getting older is hard. As you hit a certain stage of your life you realize that many of your friends are encountering the same issues. A week does not go by that the discussion of caring for aging parents does not arise. The concerns range from health care and housing to monetary and emotional issues.

All of these issues are relevant and at the same time, most of our parents have a difficult time giving up their independence. People need to approach these sensitive issues with their aging parents carefully, but there are some strategies that may be helpful.

Light: How can you tell that your parents need help?

Crimmons: Watch for warning signs. When visiting your parents, take a look around the house. If the things that would normally have been done are not, this may be a red flag that your parents are struggling with the upkeep. Are there unpaid bills piling up on the counter? They may not be aware of when the bills are due which can lead to credit problems.

Light: How do you go about raising the subject with them that they need help?

Crimmons: Start small. Parents may be reluctant to have a discussion on their financial matters. You can jumpstart the conversation by purchasing a book about financial concerns and discuss the book with them. You might want to ask your parents’ permission to access copies of their bank statements or set up online banking and automatic bill payments.

Try to offer guidance and help but try not to take over their finances completely. Working together will also offer an excuse for both parties to discuss the issues and help relieve the stress on your parents to stay on top of everything.

Light: Who can you use to help with them?

Crimmons: Be aware of the people in your parents’ lives. Friends, caregivers and church members can offer insight to changes in behavior. Make sure that you have a list handy of those people you can contact and keep the lines of communication open.

It is also important to be aware of their professional contacts. Your parents’ attorney, doctors, insurance agent and financial advisor should have your contact information as well.

Light: What about the other offspring in your family?

Crimmons: Yes, work with your siblings. Sharing responsibility can be tricky, but keeping everyone in the loop is critical. If one sibling lives closer, in-person tasks may be easier for him or her while online finances can be done from any location. Set up monthly telephone meetings with siblings to make sure that everyone is aware of the situation and can make decisions together.

Light: Then there’s a point when you need to take over from your parents.

Crimmons: A power of attorney form authorizes an agent to make business or financial decisions on the grantors’ behalf. If a parent is willing to sign and notarize a power of attorney form, it could give you greater oversight of your parents’ finances.

It may be difficult for your parents to give up their independence. Make sure that the family is notified and that everyone is aware of who has power of attorney.