Are you worried about elderly or frail parents living a long way away?
Not so long ago members of an extended family would usually live close to one another in the same community, sometimes even in the same house. It was normal for the younger generation to share responsibility for caring for their parents as they aged. The world is now a smaller place and economic globalisation means global mobility. Many people need to manage caring for elderly and frail parents at a distance and even from another country.
Alison Hesketh is the founder of TimeFinders Senior Life Specialists, who provide practical and emotional support for elderly people and their families in changing circumstances. She has particular expertise in supporting families who are caring at a distance.
Here are the first five of Alison’s Contingency Planning tips for people who find themselves worrying about elderly parents living a long way away – although these are just as pertinent for anyone with elderly parents, even if they live next door.
- Start planning now – before a crisis hits
- Start those difficult conversations….
- Get the paperwork sorted out
- Think about financial planning and financial management
- Get in contact with your parents’ support network
1. Start planning now – before a crisis hits
If at all possible start planning before your parents become frail. Have a contingency plan which reflects your parents’ wishes and make decisions before they are needed. Why is this so important? When a crisis hits, decisions have to be taken in a hurry. Decisions made in haste are not always the best decisions, particularly if you and your parents are under a great deal of stress. In a medical emergency your parent may not be able to tell you what their decision would be so it is hugely beneficial to know their thoughts in advance.
Don’t worry if your parents are already frail. There are still many positive things you can do and putting into action many of these tips for contingency planning will help.
2. Start those difficult conversations…
Many people do not want to acknowledge that they are getting older and that their health and welfare needs are changing. Consequently, it can be very difficult for children to discuss with their parents how they want to live and be cared for as they age.
Why do I need to do this – my parents are completely healthy and active? Long may it last! Planning for the future in tranquility is always infinitely better than having to make urgent decisions about things you have never considered before because there is a crisis. I prefer to take the light-hearted – Well, Dad, what if you get run over by a bus? – approach to encourage people to discuss contingency plans.
It is best to start with the practical, matter-of-fact stuff first.
3. Get the paperwork sorted out
If your parents haven’t already prepared Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPA), try to encourage and support them to do so. There are two different types of LPA: a Health and Welfare LPA and a Property and Financial Affairs LPA. If your parents are concerned that they will be signing away control of their finances to their appointed attorney (which may or may not be you) it may be a reassurance for them to lodge the Power of Attorney with their solicitor with clear written instructions as to when financial control can be handed over to the attorney.
Lasting Powers of Attorney are often accompanied by an Advance Directive or Advance Decision. This used to be called a Living Will. This sets out specific instructions to family members and the medical profession about the treatment someone would wish or not wish in the event of them being unable to give permission at the time. This can be a great source of comfort if you do find that you have to make decisions about your parent’s health when they are not in a position to do so for themselves and it can avoid family conflict if you and a sibling disagree about a course of action. You have the security of knowing that you are abiding by your parent’s own wishes.
Try to lead by example! These documents are not just for older people. If your parents haven’t made Lasting Powers of Attorney, talk to them about how you made, or are about to make, yours as an encouragement for them to act now.
Naturally, when your parents are talking to their solicitor, this is also a good moment to get their Wills updated or created for the first time.
If they haven’t got a solicitor, find a good one for them. Make sure that the solicitor is experienced in dealing with older people who might need more time and patience than solicitors are customarily used to giving and who will also offer a home visit. A good source of information is Solicitors for the Elderly. Click here to go to their website.
4. Think about financial planning and financial management
Encourage your parents to get professional financial advice from an accredited Independent Financial Adviser who specialises in Later Life Financial Planning. To find an accredited and experienced Later Life Adviser go to SOLLA, the Society of Later Life Advisers – click here for more information.
Quality care at home or in a residential setting can be expensive but it is often more affordable than people realize. Financial worries can ruin the last years of someone’s life if they think they will run out of money. Good financial planning can alleviate many of these concerns.
Ensure that your parents can still cope with making day-to-day financial decisions. Some older people find the sheer volume of paperwork associated with insurances, taxation, pensions etc. overwhelming and although they have the mental capacity to deal with it, their confidence and patience may be exhausted. To have a helping hand to get such things sorted out can be very reassuring. Is this something you can do on one of your visits back home or can a sibling or other another, utterly trustworthy, person help? Remember that older people are often targeted by fraudsters or by opportunistic people offering to “keep an eye” on things. Make sure your parents are safe.
What about my inheritance? At TimeFinders we have been blessed that the children of our elderly clients have all believed passionately that their parents’ money is there to provide the best possible care and support for their parents. It does not belong to the children nor does it become ‘their inheritance’ until their parents have chosen freely to make them a beneficiary in their Wills and have subsequently died.
But we are not naïve and we know from many financial advisers, solicitors and care providers that some children of elderly clients want to skimp on the level of care for their parents because it is ‘wasting their inheritance’ and can place subtle or not-so-subtle pressure on their parents. So if the thought has ever crossed your mind – face an uncomfortable truth: This is financial abuse. If your parents are able to pay for care and support and want to do so, then it is right and proper that they should spend their money in this way.
5. Get in contact with your parents’ support network
With your parents’ permission, get up to date contact information for their closest friends and neighbours, the Church minister, the social club Secretary – whoever your parents are in regular contact with – and let them know you do not live locally. Give them your contact information. Make sure you fully involve your parents in this because they might get angry with the notion that you are asking their friends to “spy” on them. You need to be very diplomatic in asking your parents’ contacts to let you know if they have any concerns about your parents’ wellbeing. If your parents’ agree, contact their doctor and ask them to keep you informed of any important health issues which may impact their ability to live safely at home.
At TimeFinders we understand that caring at a distance can cause great stress and anxiety and can have a detrimental impact on your career and your personal relationships. We know that planning ahead and putting a support network in place can allow you the peace of mind that you need to live your life at a distance from elderly and frail parents.
Part 2 of our Caring at a Distance tips covers
Identify sources of practical help for the future
Research technological aids
Identify suitable care options
Talk with your siblings
Communicate regularly and frequently
But we are also here for you in a crisis. Click here for more information. If you are worried about a parent please call us to arrange an initial free consultation.
If you would like more information on the TimeFinders Service please visit us at www.timefindersuk.com or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 01672 890801