Caring for a Parent from Far Away: Part 1

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Sadly, many of us will have to watch over our parents while we live far away from them. This becomes particularly true for aging parents who live in a different state or even a different country. Thus, I thought I would do several posts on long distance care giving for an aging parent. I think many of you will find this series very important as well as being important to share with your friends and relatives.

Many times I wake up with increased stress and worry about my dad. I am not there to see if he ate a good lunch of dinner or went for a walk with his walker or even if he took his medicine correctly since he not only takes a variety of pills but these pills change based on his latest doctor appointments. I am thus very anxious that I am missing something. Do any of you feel as I do? So here are some steps to take

First, you will need to build up some trust before taking any steps. You will need to work with your parents to find out where all of the important documents and assets are located such as wills, trusts, prepaid burial contracts, bank accounts and stock accounts and even insurance if any.

Note: you may be a 60 year adult but your parents remember you as the 16 year old kid who crashed the car!!

Secondly, visit them on a regular basis. If you haven’t been doing so, start up a conversation in a non-threatening way about what to do in case of an emergency. You can make them feel better by saying, “This is something I was going to do for myself too, which is to update all of my financial information and making sure that the right people have access to it in case, God forbid, I go down on a plane or get hit by a car.” Please add, “If this happened to you, I wouldn’t know where to begin. Can we talk about this stuff?” You can also mention the huge amount of financial breaches as a door opener.

Third, ask about two types of Power of Attorneys. One is for decisions on health care (which is known as a ‘Health Care Directive’) and one for finances. If your parents don’t have these, help get them prepared. Also get ready for a lot of paperwork too. I would recommend preparing a folder called, “Where to find my important papers.” This would include life insurance policies, wills, trusts (both of which should be created or updated), retirement account info, bank statements, deeds, lists of passwords, etc.

Fourth: once you have access, you can often handle a parent’s accounts and pay bills online.

NOTE: even better, set up automatic online bill payments for the parent out of their account. Thus, everything will be handled automatically.

Fifth: Next, settle sibling issues. Now, I don’t have any siblings, but many of you probably do. You need to decide who will be responsible for routine day to day matters and when to consult with the other siblings. You have to be very realistic with family dynamics. Learn the art about “biting your tongue” before making suggestions about how to do things better. If you are willing to undertake the responsibility for free, good for you. However, many people have jobs and other responsibilities. If you feel that you should get some compensation for all this extra care and work, you should be upfront about it with your siblings and even parents.

Note: Don’t ever take money from your parents account as compensation without first getting an agreement about it. Many huge arguments and family splits have resulted from this issue.

Sixth: Arrange to have your surviving parents get a full medical assessment during one of your visits home to rule out any medical causes for some changes that you may be noticing.

Seventh: Enlist the help from friends and neighbors. Give out your business card or share your email with any neighbors or friends of your parents. Encourage any acquaintance of your parents to call you if they notice any changes in a parent’s behavior or in case they haven’t seen them in a while. Even better, would be to ask a neighbor or friend to check in with your parents especially during bad weather. Building a support network can be very important.

Eighth: Consider getting your parents a medical alert device that will go off if your parents fall or press an emergency button. This way an emergency call can be made to an ambulance and these medic alert companies can also call you and alert you to any calls. I will discuss more about the importance of staying connected with your parents in the succeeding post on Wednesday.

Sandy’s advice: Unless you have a lot of tax and financial knowledge, I would consider using the services of a good elder law attorney to handle most of these matters. They can meet with the siblings and parents to discuss important issues and explain and iron out any problems.


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