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Leslie Meisner, RMA®

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6 Lessons We Learned Caring for Our Parents

Elder Care

We were out to dinner with longtime friends, catching up on family, work, and all the things that have happened in the past year.  The conversation centered around three topics (after catching up on the kids and work); caring for our parents, social security, and the 2024 election! Sound familiar?!   

My husband and I lost our three remaining parents between 2018 and 2021. Our friends lost two of their parents over the past two years. During these years their health deteriorated, and they required much more care. To make it even more complicated, two of them lived out of state. 

Here is what we learned.  

  1. Have a good understanding of your parent’s assets/accounts, where these assets/accounts are held, how they are titled, and where all the documentation is located.  My mom and dad were divorced and behaviorally opposite when it came to planning.   
  • You may need access to their accounts to help pay for their care, pay bills, or keep track of their cash flow.  Setting this up ahead of time will make the process easier.  Fast forward, it will make the estate settlement process go smoother.   Settling my mother’s estate was fairly uncomplicated.  She shared her estate plan with us years ago, sent us documents, and already secured her burial/cremation arrangements.  Dad was not prepared (nor were we).  We spent days and weeks tracking down documents and going through accumulated mail and old VA papers. Both of my parents lived in Florida, and it required several visits to wrap things up. 
  1. Try to stay up to date with doctors, medications, illnesses, and physical needs.  This can be particularly important if you need to arrange for home healthcare and/or outside living arrangements. Pay attention to their driving.  Do accidents happen and how frequently?  Are they servicing their car regularly? 
  1. Even as singles, my parents had lots of “stuff”.  Files, artwork, furniture, clothes, garden tools, etc. Be prepared to spend a few days/weeks making arrangements for it to be picked up, whether you are giving it away or disposing of it. (I keep trying to minimize our stuff thinking about our kids when the time comes!) If there is a home to sell, most likely there will be repairs needed.  To the extent you can, stay on top of this; it will be helpful in the long run. 
  1. Get to know their close neighbors and friends.  My mother had several falls and her neighbors pitched in and brought food, stayed to chat, and ran errands for her when we weren’t there.  If your parents are out of state, it is even more important to know these folks and to get their phone numbers. 
  1. If you have siblings, talk about necessary care options for mom and dad.  Ideally, before it is needed.  It seems to be inevitable for most of us, and having a good support system is so helpful.  My siblings and I worked together as our mom’s physical health and care became more complicated over time.  My husband had the same experience with his siblings.  Some siblings are better at certain tasks than others and it is helpful and comforting to share the burden.  Of course, you won’t agree on everything, and that is to be expected.  It may be that perfection is the enemy of good in these cases. 
  1. Seek help when you need it.  There are good eldercare specialists available.  If you don’t know anyone, give us a call.  We have a list of great people who can be helpful.  Just in case you need it, here is the link to our 2024 checklist “What Issues Should I Consider for My Aging Parents”.

There is no better resource than speaking directly to your parents and understanding their preferences.  Alas, it isn’t always feasible to make those preferences happen, but communicating regularly and honestly can help make the process better and, hopefully, keep your relationship strong. 

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