How to Care for Aging Parents

Son caring for his aging parents.

It’s true that for most people, their later years are some of the best of their life, but they also often come with increasing physical and mental challenges. Those challenges affect not only seniors themselves, but also the family members who love and care for them. Caring for aging parents is a rewarding, yet challenging experience. For your entire life, you may have experienced your parents as the strong and wise ones that you turned to for help. Now, they are counting on you.

If you are accustomed to your parents being strong and competent, it’s easy to miss the signs that they may be beginning to struggle, either in terms of their health or managing their daily affairs, including finances. You also may not get a straight answer if you ask if everything is under control. Just as you would prefer to continue to see your parents as you always have, they want to maintain their independence. However, there are signs that they may need some additional support.

How to Determine if an Aging Parent is Unable to Manage Their Affairs

Your parents may not tell you—or sometimes, even realize—that they are struggling. That said, there are some telltale signs that should encourage you to take a deeper look into how they are functioning financially. Some things to look for include:

  • Days’ or weeks’ worth of unopened mail
  • Bills or other important papers left lying around
  • No apparent system for filing financial documents or managing money, especially if they have been organized in the past
  • Entries in a checkbook registry, credit card statement, or bank statement that concern you, such as large or unexpected transfers, double entries, or suspicious payments.
  • Your parents have difficulty explaining payments or transfers that concern you
  • Evidence that regular bills are not being paid, such as letters from collection agencies or months-old bills
  • Evidence of large or multiple donations to questionable charities
  • Your parents become unusually defensive when you ask them if they could use help managing their finances
  • You have noticed a decline in your parents’ mental sharpness, or one of them complains to you that the other is getting forgetful.

Unfortunately, older people, even those with their faculties fully intact, can become vulnerable to financial fraud, potentially losing their life savings. Shame about being duped may keep your parents from admitting that this has happened to them and could even cause them to conceal information about their finances from you for fear of losing their independence.

Dealing With Aging Parents’ Financial Needs

The best time to have a conversation with your parents about their finances is long before they need your help. The second best time is now.

We understand: it’s a difficult conversation at any point. No one likes to think about the possibility that they may not always be capable of managing their personal affairs. But having a conversation with them before they are in a crisis makes it a little bit easier.

You could say something like, “Mom and Dad, I’ve been hearing more and more about the problems that can arise when people don’t have a plan in place to get help managing their finances before they really need it. Do you have an estate plan that includes a durable power of attorney in case you need help someday?” If they say, they don’t need it, you can remind them gently that nobody knows when or if they’ll need help managing their affairs (and bonus points to you if you can back that up with saying that you have a plan in place for your own potential incapacity). Offer to put them in touch with an estate planning and elder law attorney who can help them assess their needs.

If you are concerned that your aging parents are already becoming unable to manage their finances, there’s no time to waste. Sit down with them and let them know specific issues you’ve noticed, like repeated notices of unpaid bills. Tell them that you want to make sure they will have the financial security they need for the years ahead, and make an appointment with an elder law attorney to help protect their finances.

Unfortunately, because it can be so difficult to talk to aging parents about money, many people don’t address the issue until it becomes a real crisis, and their parents no longer have the capacity to consent to their help. If that’s the situation in which you find yourself, you may need to seek guardianship over your parents so that you can get legal authority to manage their finances. If you feel unable to take on that responsibility for whatever reason, there are also experienced attorneys who offer fiduciary services that can help both you and your aging parents feel more secure.

Dealing With Their Changing Needs

Caring for your parents is often a challenge because you don’t know what to expect; the only training you have is “on the job.” Even if your parents are not ready to consult with an elder law attorney, doing so yourself can help you anticipate needs, develop a “caring for aging parents checklist,” and access valuable resources. Think of the elder law attorney as your guide to navigating the challenging terrain of caregiving.

To learn more about how to care for aging parents and to help them (or yourself) plan for potential incapacity, contact Gudorf Law Group to schedule a consultation.