By Daniel Goodwin
Haven’t you been sitting around with your brother(s) and sister(s) and had the infamous discussion on who ranks where on Mom and Dad’s favorite list. While siblings usually joke around who is at the top of the ladder, usually someone cracks the comment, “I’m sure they cut me out of the will years ago.” For Generation X’ers, you are probably beginning to see the early stages of your parents slowing down or perhaps one of them had a mild health scare over the last five years that got you thinking who is going to take of Mom and Dad? Before each one of your brothers and sisters rush to put their finger on their nose and scream “NOT IT!”, it may be time to have a serious discussion about who will bear the responsibility should your Mom and Dad need someone by their side for financial or medical decisions.
We believe that over the next 5 to 10 years, the subject of taking care of Mom and Dad will be one that is written about in many major financial planning magazines. Generation X has literally been ripped apart from a location perspective when it comes to family as Gen X’ers chased the corporate jobs, high paying salaries, an increased divorce rate, and looking for a potentially better location to live. The days of everyone living right down the road is really a distant sight in the rearview mirror. Here are a few key thoughts you should consider as a family when you ultimately sit down for this discussion.
1. WHO IS GOING TO PLAY POINT GUARD?
It’s actually pretty rare in my experience to see all brothers and sisters get along when it comes to the ‘how’ to take care of Mom and Dad. Siblings have varying opinions on things like in-home care vs. a nursing home, advanced medical directives, and financial matters as a whole. Practically speaking, one brother or sister needs to be the point guard for making decisions. Sometimes one sibling will step
into this role out of default meaning that they live the closest to Mom and Dad or they are the one who is most financially responsible. Mom and Dad may have made their own appointments in their wills or trusts, but you should still have the discussion amongst yourselves especially if nobody lives close to Mom and Dad.
2. ARE WE GOING TO CHIP IN ANY MONEY?
Most parents won’t reveal their entire financial situation with their kids. However, you may decide as brothers and sisters to pitch in and pay for a long-term care policy in order to make sure quality care is in place for your parents or potentially preserve their estate. If you are thinking as a family that you may keep the original family house or potential vacation property, you might want to have some discussion on who will put money in the pot to have maintenance and upkeep of these properties. What if there are outstanding debts to pay? All of these types of questions are important ones to cover in the discussion.
3. WHAT IF WE HAVE ONE SIBLING WHO WANTS OUT?
We know that life is very stressful today and there is an increased strain with geographic separation for brothers and sisters to stay tight. What happens if one of our siblings is in jail? What happens if one of them has addiction problems? What happens if one of them just says, “no thanks” and the rest of us are left to deal with the situation. You can’t control how your parents have put together their last will and testament. Realize that many older couples that get past the age of 70 begin thinking more about their own mortality and are likely to change their wills and trusts multiple times before they pass away. You want to use my guide on five financial questions to ask your parents, but if one sibling wants out then the remaining one(s) need to still build a game plan no matter what. You don’t want to run into a situation where nobody knows what is going when the time comes for Mom and Dad to need your support.
4. DO WE HAVE THE SKILL SET TO GIVE MOM AND DAD CARE?
Initially, many siblings will try to figure out who can work part-time, who can help before or after work, and who can help handle which daily living activities Mom and Dad may not be able to accomplish. You need to seriously talk as a family and try to decide if you have the emotional and professional skills to really be a part-time or full-time caregiver. This can be very difficult emotionally especially if your Mom or Dad has a degenerating disease.
As children, sometimes we may be unable or unwilling to help with caring for Mom or Dad. You should be very careful because it is easy to get resentful that your life has changed because you are the responsible one. Relationships may arise and relationships among brothers and sisters can become strained. By sitting down as a family unit and really have a thorough discussion on this topic; you can save a lot of that heartache down the road. Gen X’ers probably thought that this subject was many years away, but the truth is that it’s right around the corner.