Dear Carol: I’m 62 and recovering from over a decade of heavy caregiving for my parents. During the last four years my mother, who had dementia, lived with me and it wasn't pretty. I’m terrified that this is how my life will end, not for myself but for my kids. Naturally, I’d like my kids to care about me, but I don’t want their lives consumed by my last years of potentially failing health. I don’t have much financially so I’ve never been able to afford long-term care insurance. What can I do to smooth the path for my kids? — KL.
Dear KL: I understand what you’re saying and applaud you for thinking of your children ahead of time. Throughout the years, I’ve heard from caregivers who’ve lost a great deal both financially and emotionally due to caregiving responsibilities. Most of them want to do the best that they can to smooth the way for their own kids.
People who have extensive financial resources will, of course, have significantly more options. They can afford long-term care insurance policies that can eventually help pay for a portion of their in-home care needs, assisted living and/or a nursing home. They also, presumably, have significant savings and investments that enable them to plan far better than those without as much.
However, there are still things that less financially secure people can do. First, of course, is the standard advice about seeing an estate or elder law attorney. This attorney can set up your powers of attorney for financial and health care needs that will comply with your state’s laws. She can also draft your will and any other documents that will smooth the way for your children.
Next, make certain that at least one of your children knows how to access your electronic records. You can keep a list of login information and passwords in a safe deposit box if you wish, but keep it up to date and make certain that your designated person knows where to find them.
Then, take all of this a step further by making it plain that you want to talk about your future as part of your ordinary conversations. As you converse, be careful not to force promises. Tell your kids what you’d prefer, if possible, for each step of your aging process, but assure them that you understand no one knows the future. Tell them, too, that your wish is to make your aging years as problem-free for them as possible.
Lastly, I’d suggest that you downsize, especially if you are still living in the home where you raised your family. You needn’t move unless you want to, but you can go through your home and get rid of accumulated belongings that no longer matter. Some people even offer potential keepsakes to their kids by saying that if they don’t want a particular object, they'll be selling, donating, or sending it to the landfill.
None of this is magic, but it all helps.
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.