Permanent Value

Taking the Time to Care

Nathaniel Ritchison
August 17th, 2009

The first half of life consists of the capacity to enjoy without the chance;
the last half consists of the chance without the capacity.

~Mark Twain

Talking with a loved one about big issues like aging, money, health and end-of-life care can often be uncomfortable and awkward.  But waiting is risky.  It can put you and your family in the difficult situation of interpreting your loved one’s wishes under the most stressful conditions.  So this month I’d like to provide you with some tools to help you start the conversation that no one likes to have:  Preparing for long term care.

Discussing the long term care wishes of your parents might seem like moving a boulder that’s settled into the ground for decades.  But once you nudge it out of its rut, I assure you that the discussion will gain momentum and the sharing and caring will begin to flow.  Keep in mind you don’t have to carry the conversation or capture every detail of their plan.  When appropriate, involve your spouse, your siblings, and your kids in the process.  And of course we’re here to provide you with any technical or emotional support that you might need throughout this process.

The good news is that you are never “too young” or “too old” to have this discussion.    If your parents are in their 60s and livin’ it up, that’s great!  It’s a perfect time to get an understanding of their goals and to find out how they’ve prepared to achieve those goals.  And if your parents are older, or are already receiving assisted care, talking about their wishes will ensure that you are all on the same page and allow you fill in any gaps in their planning. Initiating this dialogue is a win-win situation for everyone.  However, starting the conversation may depend on you.

You’ll find that once the discussion gets rolling it can move in many directions.  Here are a few key issues to discuss:

1.    The current situation – Do they already have a plan?  Are they currently facing challenges?  What are their daily activities?  Do they have any health problems?  Are there things that can be done now to make life easier?

2.   Emergency planning – If there is a medical emergency, how will they get help?  Who’s calling whom?  Is there an emergency contact list of friends, family, emergency personnel, etc.?

3.    Legal Issues – Do they have the following and do you know where they are kept?
•    An up-to-date will.
•    A durable power of attorney giving someone the authority to make financial and legal decisions on their behalf.
•    A living will outlining their end of life wishes.
•    A power of attorney for health care specifically geared towards medical decisions.

4.    No place like home – Most people, given the choice, would prefer to stay in their home.  Does their current living situation accommodate that?  Where would they choose to stay if they were unable to stay at home?  Would they stay with family? With friends?  In an assisted living facility?

5.    The cost of care – Long term care (at home, in an assisted-living facility, or nursing home) can easily cost $50,000 to $100,000 per year, and can quickly deplete your hard-earned savings.  Some planning options are available like: long-term care insurance, and family and retirement planning and protection.

6.   The medical maze – Do your parents have a primary care physician?  It becomes even more vital to have a primary physician as your loved ones age and require multiple specialists.  Also, have a general understanding of their health insurance policies and Medicare coverage.

7.    The last scene – This could be the hardest of all discussions but you may be surprised how thought out their end of life plans are.  As with all these topics, ask the question and sit back and listen closely to their response, you might be surprised.

As health care and financial products continue to evolve to pace the growth of the aging population, individuals are facing more and more planning options and choices.  As with all financial planning, the sooner that you discuss your goals the more control you have over the ultimate outcome.  And, of course, if you haven’t shared your plan or long term care wishes with your loved ones, now is the perfect time.