Financial anxiety, aging parents
December 15, 2018 8:10 AM   Subscribe

As my parents get older I'm having some anxiety about helping them financially. I realize that at least some of my anxiety can probably be addressed by getting more information.

To be clear, they have never asked me for financial assistance and assure me that it won't be necessary. My worries are kind of vague: "what if the diabetes gets a lot worse and they need money? What if I don't have enough to help them, or enough to retire myself after helping them?" I have an idea of their assets and think they probably do have enough as long as nothing major happens and they continue to be fairly frugal.

Possibly relevant:
I am not struggling financially in that I can cover my rent, groceries, etc, am not in debt and have some savings; but lately I keep getting hit with the opposite of windfalls (car repairs, medical stuff not covered by insurance, last-minute flight for family emergency - the stuff you have emergency savings for) so my savings keeps getting nearly demolished and I start rebuilding again - and again - and again. Right now I could go for about 3 months on my savings - if no major car repairs or medical expenses came up. Am in early 40s, single, and rent; am prone to anxiety. Parents are early 70s.

Have you had to help your parents financially? What information do you wish you'd had a lot sooner?
posted by bunderful to Work & Money (11 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Probably not exactly what you're looking for, but: have powers of attorney drawn up. Don't wait until you need them.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 8:14 AM on December 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

Educate yourself and then talk to them about long-term-care insurance, or whole-life insurance with a long-term-care option.
posted by nicwolff at 8:20 AM on December 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

they have never asked me for financial assistance and assure me that it won't be necessary

Could you talk with them about how they have planned their finances? Assuming they're not just blowing smoke with their assurances that they are self-sufficient, they must have a strategy in place (just as you do) for managing their money so they won't run out even if they get hit with some big bills. Once you know what their strategy is, you'll know whether your anxiety is well-founded or not.
posted by DrGail at 9:05 AM on December 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

Definitely talk to them about it! They have probably thought and talked about it amongst themselves, and it's absolutely appropriate for their child to talk to them about it frankly.
posted by so fucking future at 9:09 AM on December 15, 2018

I (like a few other MeFis!) work at a US government agency that puts out resources for folks who are thinking about older adults and their finances, whether it's information to pass on to your parents or things that might be useful if they need your help in the future. This includes blog posts, videos on our Youtube channel, and even free printed booklets that can be shipped to you. There's even a large section for those who are tasked with managing aspects of other people's money.

Education about what's possible, or probable, or things to ask them specifically about might help you with your anxieties. It'll also help you and your parents be able to talk enough to come up with a light plan.
posted by marteki at 9:18 AM on December 15, 2018 [15 favorites]

Its funny how life works. I just happened to see this and feel compelled to share. Both of my parents died last month, within two weeks of each other, afters months of back and forth, cross-country flights and meetings with surgeons, critical care nurses, physicians, insurance companies, rehab facilities and funeral directors. What I wish they'd told me was that neither of them had any advanced directives or a will. And without a will, even though I'm an only child, everything now must go through probate. It means I can't pay bills, property taxes, get access to their accounts to keep utilities on, determine the disposition of their vehicles or property or even locate those documents in the house.

What they didn't fully grasp was that they were aging and with age came physical and mental problems they didn't want to see. They respective conditions got progressively worse over the months, but much faster than anyone thought, until bills started to overwhelmed their income. Worrying about their health slowly got overtaken by worrying about how to pay for their health problems. Friends told me to not worry about paying bills b/c they said there were clauses in many contracts that absolve the estates of the deceased from bills. My mother, however, prided herself on paying her bills and it felt a disservice to her to not at least try to pay them.

They, like I'm guessing all parents, see their children as children no matter their age and so, probably feel there are some things they just don't need to know and would rather not talk about. My parents would change the subject or get angry when I wanted to talk to them about their finances or their final plans. I'm afraid I can't advise you on how to get them to open up because they didn't. But I can tell you that they absolutely must. Otherwise, the eldercare laws that exist to protect their independence and their estate will lock you in a straitjacket of legal procedure after they die that will make you want to scream.
posted by CollectiveMind at 10:21 AM on December 15, 2018 [13 favorites]

Also, someone mentioned long term care insurance. Premiums for long term care insurance are most affordable when people are in their 40s and 50s. After that, premiums start getting impossibly high to the point where, when a parent is in their 70s or 80s, it's just not practical to try to get it. Also with state Medicaid, I learned of what it calls a five year look-back. Since it pays for care from an estate's assets, the state wants to make sure when applicants apply, they haven't transferred ownership of valuable assets within five years of applying. If they have been transferred, applicants must wait years after they need it before they can get it. So much of you question is about streams of money and laws affecting money and the movement of money. Finally, about powers of attorney. Parents must agree to a power of attorney. It's a wise and important tool to have than lets family members make key decisions regarding health and finances, but parents that are resistant to talk about their affairs aren't going to be enthusiastic about turning over total or even limited control of their affairs. The whole process of getting them to come around is a long, slow effort over months and even years. They've been independent their whole lives.
posted by CollectiveMind at 10:30 AM on December 15, 2018

I am the last aging parent at 89. I was compelled to make my passing easier for my 4 remaining children. Here is what I have done.'
Sold my house and moved into an independent senior development that I love.
Liquefied my assets. My pension easily covers my living expenses. The remainder I have a daughter that was added to my joint accounts so that funeral costs can be handled without effort. My insurance policies claim forms are completed for them to file. My son has power of attorney for medical purposes. I have a DNR filed with my doctor to make it easier for that decision. (DNR is Do Not Resusitate). I have the title to my vehicle signed so that it can be transferred easily.
In case I need to have ongoing care I have access to assisted living facility.
They do not know the amount of funds I have as I do not think they need to know that. But they know how to access the funds I have when I pass without having to go through hoops to get me buried, etc. Good luck with your parents. Surely they can tell you what they want and have set up without even telling you the dollar amounts.
posted by JayRwv at 11:01 AM on December 15, 2018 [19 favorites]

there were clauses in many contracts that absolve the estates of the deceased from bills
I don't think that is true. My (non-lawyer) understanding is that the estate has to pay for the expenses of the person that dies before there is anything left over to inherit but the heirs don't have to use their own money to pay the expenses of the dead person (unless they are co-signers or otherwise tangled in the assets).

I think if you operate from the assumption that all of their money will go to support them in their final years and you will inherit nothing, then there are ways to navigate this. For example, read up on Medicaid - it provides medical and even nursing home coverage for elderly that have no money left. If you try to game the system by giving away assets so they get to qualifying levels faster, you can get caught in ways that are very painful. But if you assume that their money is there to pay for the expenses in their lifetime, it's not so bad.

All of this is very complicated - especially when it is hypothetical so you are trying to think about every possible contingency, not just the one path that actually happens. Even more so, when you have anxious brain.
posted by metahawk at 11:08 AM on December 15, 2018

In terms of power of attorney, my in-laws had a power of attorney written so that it didn't take effect immediately - but they could turn it on whenever they ready by just calling their lawyer. It was written several years before they needed it but after my father-in-law died and my mother-in-law moved near us, she was ready for more help with paying bills and such. At that point, I called her lawyer, he called her made sure it was what she wanted and then he activated it. (There is probably a more legal term)
posted by metahawk at 11:11 AM on December 15, 2018

Have you had to help your parents financially? What information do you wish you'd had a lot sooner?

As an attorney, but definitely not your attorney, I went running to an estate planning attorney when I had slightly more than two weeks to prepare for a surgery that might leave me incapacitated - I felt it was urgent to make sure my wishes and interests were clearly articulated before there was a real risk that I would not have the capacity to make my own legal and financial decisions. The attorney I worked with was affordable, and it seriously reduced my anxiety - you may want to ask about a revocable living trust, because it may be something that can help you and your parents.

There are also some links to elder law resources on the MeFi Wiki Get a lawyer page. Ideally, your parents will take the lead on the planning, but there are resources for family members who have questions about how to support their parents. I think it is really great that you are thinking about these issues in advance of a problem or crisis, because this is the type of challenge where luck favors the prepared.

And it may be Medicare that you may want to become more familiar with, and ThereIsHelp for questions about those programs.
posted by Little Dawn at 1:27 PM on December 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

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