Talk with aging parents about money


FORT COLLINS, Colo. – It can be difficult to determine when a family member – because of failing health – needs help with legal or financial matters.

Often adult children do not step in because they can’t accept their parents’ aging. Many families do not discuss finances until a crisis occurs, when it may be too late. With little or no planning, financial affairs become disorganized and procedures become costly and complicated.

What do they want? Planning ahead won’t prevent all the problems, but it allows more effective action and reduces the probability that children will become intrusive. Planning ahead can ensure that an elderly family member’s choices are known ahead, it can increase financial management options and reduce disagreements among siblings about “what Mom and Dad want.”

Outside help can reduce some tensions, and it really helps if the family communicates poorly about money and decision-making.

Vicki Schmall, retired gerontologist, shares in The Caregiver Helpbook: Powerful Tools for Caregiving the tremendous responsibility of making decisions for someone who can’t take an active part in the process.

“You may try your best, but wonder if you are making the right decision or if others will approve,” she says.

Before becoming involved it is important to:

* Understand your motives, attitudes and feelings.

* Learn from past experiences.

* Understand your relative’s needs and feelings.

* Involve your relative in decisions.

* Investigate potential options, and

* Recognize your relative’s right to take risks.

Involving others. If you are too emotionally involved, ask another person to help you see the situation objectively. Reflect on past decisions and consult with other caregivers who are in similar situations. This will help you decide timing, prevent mistakes and consider what the care receiver would do in a similar situation.

Are there reasons to be concerned about his/her ability to manage finances? To understand your relative’s needs – especially if you are a long-distance caregiver – you may need to involve others including family members, health care providers, neighbors, business or delivery people.

Ask what they see as your loved one’s remaining skills, what has changed, what problems exist, whether the need is temporary or permanent and if the change will harm this person’s health or others.

If dementia/ physical limitations are suspected, a care manager, nurse or social worker who specializes in evaluating the needs of ill individuals can give objective, professional advice.

Relative’s perspective. Try to understand your relative’s perspective about accepting help or giving up independence. This is traumatic and stressful. Make plans “with” someone instead of “for” someone. Ask your elderly family member what he or she wants.

If an older person sees his ideas being implemented, he becomes invested in making a decision work. Tasks decided upon must be within the skill level of the family member, except when mental or memory capacity is reduced. Decisions, however, should not burden others unnecessarily, so set limits on what you and other family members can do.

Recognize your relative’s right to take risks, and accept that you can’t force or overrule the decision if it does not put others at risk. Do not blame yourself or allow others to. Communicate your concerns how you will be affected as a consequence of these decisions.

Sound, compassionate decision-making is a skill that requires preparation, cooperation and practice. Understand first what you want to convey. Do not begin with the goal of getting the person to do what you want or to save your inheritance.

Legal tools. Try to choose the least intrusive intervention to help your family member remain as independent as possible. Legal financial tools available include: joint bank accounts, power of attorney (non-durable or limited and durable), living trusts (will), appointment of a representative payee and conservatorship (guardianship of the estate).

The first three must involve your family member while he or she is fully capable of making financial decisions. They are quickly revocable, easier to implement and do not affect your relative’s right to self-determination.

The last two tools are used when no advance planning is done and your relative is incapacitated. Options become more intrusive, fewer and more complex.

Reducing conflict. Schmall also shares guidelines for helping someone with finances, with the least amount of tension:

* Give your family member as much control as possible.

* Involve him and keep him informed.

* Respect his privacy.

* Accommodate changes.

* Keep his money separate from your own.

* Balance financial statements

(The author is an Extension educator with Colorado State University.)

What elders wish we knew…

FORT COLLINS, Colo. – Nancy McCambridge Driskill, elder care adviser, shares what elders wish we knew about being supportive when managing life changes:
* Be patient as older people process all the ramifications; understand they may move back and forth from acceptance to refusal.
* Use good listening skills. Allow elders to talk about feelings without judgment or criticism.
* Resist pressure for immediate closure.
* Respect the strength and abilities that remain.
* Remove confusing information. It is helpful to work from a manageable list of agreed criteria and, together, narrow the options to make a choice.
Clarity of roles. As an adult child, express your needs or priorities as they relate to the older relative. We all need to be assured and to go on with reasonable boundaries. Be clear, share and keep the focus on the elderly person.

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