This article was co-authored by Pam Foti and Jenny Wagner, senior care consultants at Vesta Senior Network in Wauwatosa, Wisc.
They’re the people who have raised you to be who you are today, cheering you on through major life milestones and lifting you up in the face of challenges or hardships. After years of relying on your parents or loved ones, it may seem impossible to imagine a time in which you might need to take on the role of caregiver or decision-maker.
Starting a long-term care conversation with your loved ones is far from easy, but failing to have an action plan in place can be far more damaging — both emotionally and financially. But the hesitation is not uncommon: Although nearly 70% of people turning age 65 will need long-term care at some point in their lives, less than half of them have discussed their wishes or preferences with family members.1
So, how can you help ensure that your loved ones get the care they deserve when the need arises? And more importantly, how can you start an open, honest conversation about the planning process while staying attuned to their needs? Here are three important factors to keep in mind.
Know Your Options
Preparation is key when approaching any significant life change or event, but it’s especially critical when planning for long-term care. Unfortunately, the reality is that crises typically drive many long-term care decisions — when emotions are at an all-time high and family members must act fast to find a care solution for their loved one. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Think about it: In most cases, we start planning for our retirement on the day we start working. However, we put off planning for our later years, which are often the most expensive period of our lives.
The financial impact of long-term care can be alarming if you don’t plan for it appropriately. Today, the monthly median cost for a space in an assisted living facility is $3,628.2 Additionally, most established assisted living facilities also request that their residents pay for costs privately two years or more before requiring public assistance, or Medicaid.
Before you start the planning process, do your research and gain a comprehensive understanding of the options for care, the costs of those options and whether you can obtain funding assistance if your loved one depletes their assets. You should also help your loved one choose a care option that is sustainable for the remainder of their lifetime or consider choosing an option that has an emergency plan.
This is also an area in which education can make all the difference. For instance, Vesta Senior Network provides long-term care consulting and resources to adult children,* which can help them make the right, confident decisions for their loved ones. If you can engage a professional to help with this process, try to find someone who will spend time educating you and getting to know your loved one. They may even accompany you on facility tours to help you and your loved one get a first-hand experience with a community or care option before making a decision.
Choose Your Approach Carefully
Devote the same amount of thought and preparation to planning the care conversation as you do to preparing your finances or researching care options.
Keep in mind that it is important for many senior parents or family members to retain
their independence and remain in control of their decisions so avoid implying that you’ll make decisions for them. Instead, remind your parent or loved one that their wellbeing is the central factor in making a care decision. Explain that by having this conversation now, you’ll be able to understand their wishes and know what’s important to them so you can plan next steps appropriately, should they become ill, incapacitated or unable to communicate their preferences.
Most importantly, reassure your loved one that the goal of the conversation is to ensure they can spend the final years of their life the way they want. In the past, we’ve met parents who choose to make long-term care decisions ahead of time as a “gift” to their children. Unfortunately, this perspective is not universal among all families. For most people, long-term care is an ongoing conversation and a process. Be patient with your loved one and pay attention to their thoughts and feelings in your first conversation so you can keep building their trust moving forward.
Seek Insight From the Outside
Though these decisions are personal to you and your family, remember that you don’t have to navigate them alone. A personal financial advisor, senior care consultant or another professional with experience in the field can help provide objective advice and expertise, especially when managing the financial or emotional aspects of these decisions. Once you’ve started the planning process, you should also be proactive and set up a meeting with the advisor and/or consultant so your loved one feels comfortable and can trust them to do what’s best for their needs.
At the same time, it’s important to keep in mind that care needs differ from person to person; the solution that suited a friend or another relative may not be right for your loved one. Therefore, make sure that you understand the nuances of various different care communities and spend ample time researching each option so you can make the best-possible decision for your loved one’s situation.
*Wipfli Financial Advisors, LLC and Vesta Senior Network are not affiliated entities. There are no referral or other arrangements between these two entities. Clients should conduct their own independent review of Vesta Senior Network when considering their services.