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Generations: Helping aging parents with finances

For most of us, it’s hard to face the fact that our parents, the people who took care of us, are getting older and may need assistance in decision making and caring for themselves.

It’s also difficult to ask questions about finances. Many of our parents are of a generation that considers financial matters private. Here are some tips for talking to your parents to provide you and your siblings with some communication strategies and consideration for these important conversations. One size will not fit all families, but these suggestions can help in opening this dialogue with parents.

• Start discussions early

Don’t wait until there is a medical or behavioral crisis. While your parents are still in good health, use the opportunities to start the conversation.

• Include family members

You are not in this alone. Bring other family members into the discussions with your parents, but first determine whether they have different opinions that would possibly undermine what you are trying to accomplish. Get all the issues on the table and gather support from siblings and other relatives.

• Explain the purpose of your conversation

Let your parents know you are concerned about them, and you want to do the right things for them as they age. Explaining the purpose of the conversations will help everyone better understand why you are bringing up sensitive issues.

• Understand your parents’ need to control their own lives

At some point, you may need to balance your parents’ independence with their safety, but try to discuss and resolve the issues to not take away their sense of control over their own lives.

• Agree to disagree

Their wishes should prevail unless their health or safety is in question. Constructive communication strategies center on listening and conversing but not bullying or controlling the conversations.

• Use good communication skills

Offer options, not advice. Remember to ask for your parents’ ideas. Express your concerns rather than telling them what they should do. Listen and don’t be anxious about silence. Use open-ended questions that foster discussion rather than closed questions that are answered with a “yes” or “no.”

• Ask about records and documentation

You can start by asking your parents where they keep their papers, and whom you should contact in case they are in an accident or are incapacitated. Know where your parents’ insurance policies, wills, health care proxies, living wills, trust documents, tax returns and investment and banking records are located.

• Provide accurate information

Parents may not have enough information about the legal and financial options available to them and you can greatly assist the parent by serving as an informed resource to them, by providing material for them to read. Contact Pima Council on Aging Central Intake by calling 790-7262 during weekdays from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. with questions or to request a meeting with a social worker or ombudsman and also check out online resources at pcoa.org.

For example, your parents may be eligible for government programs. Check benefitscheckup.org for assistance for people older than 55.

Understand that Medicare generally does not cover long-term care, and Arizona’s Medicaid – Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS) – pays long-term care expenses only for low-income individuals. PCOA’s Medicare and Health Insurance Assistance and Elder Rights and Benefits Assistance experts will help clarify plans and options.

Suggest that your parents learn about long-term care insurance options by understanding the Arizona Long Term Care System explained in PCOA’s monthly workshop about the Long Term Care System.

Identify the home- and community-based network of services available through PCOA and listed online at pcoa.org that may be available if your parents were to remain in their home as long as possible. Some home modifications and medical safety alert systems may make sense.

Re-evaluate and consider conversation with a PCOA specialist, geriatric case manager, financial planner or attorney.

If the conversations over time are going well, assess what may be any hurdles and consider that your parents talk with a third party – a geriatric care manager, the family financial planner or a lawyer (consult the local chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys in Tucson) for contact information through the PCOA Central Intake at 790-7262.

• Treat your parents with respect

Treat your parents with love and respect and reassure them that you will be there for them as they age.

Today’s information is provided by Adina Wingate, PCOA’s public relations director. Visit online at www.pcoa.org

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