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Parental Guidance

Taking Care of Those Who Took Care of You

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By Pete Alfano

Growing up, we count on our parents for food, shelter, guidance, and understanding. Even as adults with children of our own, we often continue to rely on them. But when our parents reach the autumn of their life, it is time to return the favor and make sure their financial status and physical well-being are secure.

Talking to aging parents about financial matters can be difficult. Parents can be secretive, even with their own children, especially if money is in short supply. They may also be sensitive to any discussion centered on their eventual death.

Nonetheless, it is the responsibility of adult children to have an overview of their parent’s financial status and to know whether they have enough to live comfortably in retirement. In addition to finances, it is vital to determine if they have a will and whether the surviving parent will have power of attorney and can execute a living will. If only one parent is surviving, who has been designated as executor of the estate once they pass?

Assure your parents that you are not planning for their death but want to ensure they are financially solvent as they age. Here is some information you need to help your parents plan their future.

If your parents own their home, are they still making mortgage payments, or do they have a HELOC (home equity line of credit? What are the monthly payments? Do they have an HOA, and if so, what are those monthly payments? How much do they pay in property taxes, have they applied for a senior exemption, and where is the deed to their property? Determine the average annual cost of maintaining the home, including utility bills, repairs, and other potential expenses such as pool maintenance and purchasing new appliances. If they have credit cards with balances, what are the monthly payments? Are their cars in good running order, and do they still need two vehicles? Have a list of all the service providers and the account numbers.

Are your parents collecting Social Security? How much do they receive monthly? Do they have a pension or a retirement fund such as a 401k, and who manages it? Some seniors continue to work past retirement age as a necessity and may have a part-time job for extra spending money. What is their salary? And don’t forget about their bank account and how much cash they can access quickly. Ask your parents for the account numbers for their bank accounts, retirement portfolio, and their credit cards.

Are your parents on Medicare yet? If so, do they have an all-in-one Medicare Advantage plan issued by private companies, or do they have regular Medicare? It is essential to enhance regular Medicare with a supplemental plan issued by a private company that covers what Medicare doesn’t. That also means having a separate dental, vision, and pharmacy plan issued by private companies. Just as important is whether your parents have long-term care insurance. Although premiums are high, this insurance covers in-home and nursing home care without emptying their savings or retirement fund.

Are your parents planning to live their senior years in their own home? Are they planning to move into an assisted living or independent living facility? Will they need a nursing home? Or are you planning for your parent(s) to move in with you and your family? What will that arrangement mean to you financially, and consider if it will require moving into a bigger house? The answers to all these questions will enable you and your parents to have a plan in place for their golden years. 

Home Alone

  • If one or both of your parents plan to stay in their house indefinitely, help them to make it as safe as possible.
  • Install grab bars in the shower and near the toilet, and purchase a shower seat to minimize the chances of a fall.  
  • Discourage them from using a ladder or even a stepstool unless there is no other option. This means keeping everything from kitchen appliances to clothing within easy reach.
  • Update the lighting so that they can see more easily. If they live in a two-story house, persuade them to have everything they need on the ground floor.
  • If there is only one surviving parent, encourage him or her to get a medical alert device to always wear, and remind them to always carry their smartphone so they can call emergency services and you in case of a fall or other injury. 
  • Consider having a caregiver visit once a day to help a parent bathe, take their medication, and prepare a meal.

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