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Talking About the Future With Adult Children

Create a family tradition of care planning.

Father and son talking

Many Caring Right at Home readers are baby boomers who are providing care for their elderly parents. When it comes to planning for their own senior years, you would think these savvy people would have great communication with their own adult children! Yet studies show that even baby boomers often avoid these conversations until a health crisis or other challenge to independence arises.

Fidelity Investments recently conducted the Intra-Family Generational Finance Study demonstrating that adult children and their parents struggle to communicate on subjects such as health, retirement living, and whether children will care for parents if they become ill.

"Given the economic pressures facing families today, it's troubling that detailed conversations are not happening, especially among those in the sandwich generation, who may be grappling with competing financial priorities ranging from planning for their own retirement and paying for a child's college education to dealing with eldercare, estate planning and retirement challenges with their parents," said Kathleen A. Murphy, president of Personal Investment at Fidelity Investments. She cautions, "Too often, discussing these issues is considered taboo within families, but real emotional and financial consequences emerge when such conversations don’t happen or lack sufficient depth."

But remember: Planning ahead is far better than waiting until you are forced to make decisions and share information in a crisis situation. Bring up these topics sooner rather than later—informally, or in a planned meeting, if that is more your style. If your children live at a distance, set aside time for a meeting during holiday visits or reunions. Families who have had these types of discussions report that working together on the challenges and solutions of aging brings them closer together, relieves anxiety and enhances their relationship. Those closest to you deserve to know your plans. You can't build your team without them.

To get the process started, here is a "cheat sheet" of things to discuss:

Your health. Is there anything important about your health condition that you haven't shared with your children? While some seniors keep their children up to date on medical problems, others are more reticent to do so. There can be a barrier based on denial, where children think, "Mom and Dad are fine—they'll be active and independent their entire lives," and parents think, "I don’t want to burden the kids with worrying about my health." But it’s better when children have a realistic picture of their parents’ health situation. And be sure to share any information about health conditions that might be inherited.

Your retirement plans. If you are still working, how long would you like to stay on the job, assuming you continue to enjoy good health? Once you retire, how would you like to spend your time? If adult children live at a distance, would you like to visit them more? Are you still providing care for your own parents, and how would that change if you retired?

Your plans for senior living. Are you considering downsizing to a smaller place, or to a senior independent living retirement community? Do you want to stay in the community where you live now, or are you thinking of relocating to a different climate or to be closer to the children? If you plan to stay in your current home, what adaptations would be needed if you were to become ill or disabled? 

Your healthcare wishes. What are your thoughts about end-of-life care? Have you completed a living will or other advance healthcare directive? What about the role of your adult children? If you were to become incapacitated and unable to manage your own financial and personal affairs—say, because of a stroke or Alzheimer’s disease—who would you want to step in to serve as your healthcare representative or legal guardian?

Planning for Care

The subject of care is a difficult topic for many families. We all like to imagine that we will be robust and independent right until the end—and our children like to think about us in the same way. But the reality is, 70 percent of people older than 65 will need care support at some point, some for an extended period. Odds are that you will be one of those people. What will you do if you need care?  Even today, many people believe a serious health problem means a one-way trip to the nursing home for seniors. But in reality, many wish to and can receive care in their own homes—and much of that care is provided and coordinated by younger relatives. So it’s vital to discuss expectations.

Do you and/or your adult children assume that they are the default plan when it comes to support? This is a delicate question, and the answer depends on both circumstances and family dynamics. Discuss your concerns: You may fear your loss of independence and the changed relationship that caregiving would bring. Your children may fear the impact on their jobs, children and other responsibilities. If they live at a distance, they may wonder how they can provide care—should they move closer to you? Should you leave your established community to be near them? Talk about the options early, and learn about services that can support your independence even as your care needs change.

Family caregivers need not go it alone. Assisted living or a similar supportive living community could be a good choice. Seniors living at home can access community services such as special transportation for seniors, meal delivery and senior centers. Healthcare services can be provided in the home. Some experts even predict that more doctors will make house calls as the population ages.

In-home care is another great support for seniors who need assistance. Professional in-home caregivers help with personal hygiene, housekeeping and laundry, transportation, healthcare management, safety supervision, companionship, and memory care support for seniors with Alzheimer’s or other dementia. Planning and budgeting for this type of care, which is less costly than care provided in a nursing home, is a great way to lessen anxiety about the future for seniors and family. Your adult children may be surprised to know about the variety of ways a professional in-home caregiver can take over challenging care tasks, freeing family to spend their time together doing things they enjoy.

Having the Conversation

You don’t have to discuss everything at once, of course. That would be overwhelming! And as you go through the above list, you might find issues that you haven’t fully thought through for yourself, much less shared with loved ones. Discuss your plans as you go along. You not only do a great service to your children by planning ahead, but also add to your own peace of mind.

If the conversation is difficult, a third-party expert can facilitate communication and help your family access resources. Elder law attorneys, geriatric care managers and senior financial advisors can help everyone get on the same page, and help you create a plan. These professionals charge for their consulting services, but it is usually money well spent—an investment in the future of the whole family.

For information on topics related to home care and healthcare, visit our Home Care and Healthcare Advocacy group on LinkedIn.  

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Right at Home, Inc. is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned providers of in-home care services.


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