There’s no clear path to becoming a caregiver. Sometimes it can happen suddenly, with an accident or illness, or it might happen more gradually by lending support to an aging loved one. Navigating this new terrain can be tricky, and the legal and financial aspects of caregiving can be especially overwhelming.
Planning in advance (when you can) helps avoid crisis-based decision making and can make it easier for family members to assist if and when necessary. Having the initial “talk” can be intimidating, but these conversations are some of the first steps families can take in order to prepare for the unknowns of the future.
Here are four critical considerations when discussing the legal and financial care needs of loved ones.
1. Timing is important
It’s natural to think that holidays or family gatherings might be a good time to have a family meeting because everyone is together. However, if there are kids running around, or everyone has had a few glasses of wine, it may not be the best time. You might find more success when these conversations take place when everyone is relaxed and emotions aren’t running so high.
While it’s important for everyone to plan for the future, these conversations are particularly time sensitive when a loved one is diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s or recently hospitalized. The earlier conversations happen, the more likely your loved one will be able to participate in the dialogue.
2. Be specific about your intentions and concerns
Make clear that you’re having these conversations out of concern and care for your loved one. The goal is to ensure that proper plans are in place and that your loved one’s wishes are understood and respected by the entire family.
And it’s equally as important to speak up about your concerns - whether that be about their financial security, physical safety, or your own finances.
3. Start with the big-picture
Be gentle in your approach and respect that your loved one might be uncomfortable with these conversations. Avoid asking the obvious, direct questions like “How much money do you have saved?”
Try a bigger-picture approach. For example with parents, you could ease into conversation with, "Mom and Dad, you’ve taken such good care of me. I want to be able to provide that same sort of care if you ever need it." This helps organically steer the conversation to legal and financial particulars.
4. Get organized
Start with a list of important contacts like providers, pharmacies, family members, even local neighbors and friends who support your loved one.
On that same note, start gathering important legal documents - Power of Attorney, Healthcare Proxy, and Living Will to name a few. Organizing paperwork is especially important if your loved one lives in another state.