Most older people say to their family members, "We don't want to be a burden on you." However, the truth is that while most won't need financial support, as most people age, they become more dependent on their children, close relatives, or acquaintances to help them manage.
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With an intention to make things easier for your younger relatives and loved ones, you can complete this checklist of particularly important matters to take care of as you grow older:
1. Housing. Ideally, family members of older and younger generations discuss later-life housing options well before a change is needed. By "housing options," I mean the possibility of having to enter an assisted-living facility or nursing home. If you do not cover this ground before you have to make the decision, you can pretty much be assured that the proposal will be met with some resistance. This is unfair. It sends the child or other concerned family member on a guilt trip when, had the family considered these matters earlier, they could have more rationally talked over prospect going into a nursing home.
Many older homeowners insist on staying put in houses that are too big, too hazardous, and too difficult or costly to maintain. The same can be said of many apartment owners. That's a shame, because there are so many alternatives available for those who want places more livable than an old home in constant need of repair. An added bonus could be lower housing costs, particularly if your relative moves into smaller quarters.
If the older person in your life resists downsizing because there won't be enough room to house visiting children and grandchildren, remind him or her that after a day of youngsters rampaging through the house, it might be nice to send the visiting family to a hotel for the night.
2. Insurance. Make sure your parents keep and maintain the right kind and amount of insurance. Periodically review your parents' insurance policies to make sure the coverage is adequate but not excessive and that the premiums are paid. Many of us have heard reports of unscrupulous insurance agents taking advantage of elders by selling them duplicate coverage or too narrowly defined coverage (cancer or burial insurance, for example). A competent insurance agent is indispensable.
3. Health care. Some older people are reticent to ask for the health care they deserve and are entitled to. It's easy to get lost in or confused by the Medicare bureaucracy. A younger-generation family member can intervene to make sure loved ones receive appropriate health care and do not overpay for health insurance or out-of-pocket medical expenses. Be available to help your family member deal with routine or non-routine medical needs.
4. Investments. While many retirees enjoy paying attention to their investments, the time may come when they are no longer able to do so. To handle this possibility, ask the relative to request that duplicate copies of investment statements go to you—even if the relative uses an adviser—so that you can monitor what's going on with your loved one's nest egg. In addition, encourage your parents to contact you any time anyone asks them to make an investment they don't understand.
5. Day-to-day money concerns. Be alert for situations causing or revealing money problems. A sudden change in spending habits, late filing of tax returns, or late payment of bills may indicate that a parent or other relative is simply unable to maintain his or her day-to-day finances. That doesn't necessarily mean that a parent is having trouble making ends meet, but the assistance of a child or other family members is probably necessary. This may involve taking over the chores of paying bills and making sure household and income records are organized.
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