Went Home for the Holidays? What to Consider When Parents Show Signs of Needing Help.

As we are all recovering from the holiday season and getting back into our regular routine, many of us are thinking back on recent visits with our parents and other relatives who we don’t get to see as often as we would like.

Unfortunately, for many people, a visit home often leads us to realize that these loved ones are starting to show signs that they may need more help than they used to. We start to worry about what our next steps might be. For many of these issues, the solution isn’t a major overhaul in lifestyle, but could mean bringing yourself up to speed about the family member’s current circumstances.  If this sounds like someone you care about, here are some suggestions for next steps.

Red Flags to Notice.  The best place to start is to look for any red flags that might pop up in your loved one’s home.  In some cases, this might manifest as changes in hygiene, spoiled food in the fridge, or a house in disrepair.  Sometimes, you may notice that bills are piling up on the kitchen table and don’t look like they’re being addressed.

If you see some of these red flags, it could mean that your family member may have diminished capacity or some other problem that is causing memory lapses or poor judgment.  So, the first thing to do is have your family member examined by his or her physician and follow up on any recommendations for referrals the physician might make.  Once any medical issues are either ruled out or are defined, however, more should be done.

Looking for Resources.  For many of the red flags you notice, the solution may not require a major overhaul in lifestyle, but could mean bringing yourself up to speed about the family member’s current living situation.  If only minor day-to-day help is needed, working with a geriatric care manager can help you coordinate a level of care that addresses your family member’s needs and brings you peace of mind, without being too intrusive in your family member’s life.  If it looks like a move to a care community might be necessary, a geriatric care manager is often a great resource to determine whether there are some housing options that would be a good fit and ensure your family member’s safety.

Have a Conversation to Find Important Information.  On your end, to make sure you’re positioned to best help your loved one, make sure to have a conversation with them and go over important financial information that you’ll need to know.  This should be done as soon as possible.  There are a number of important pieces of information that could be critical: where are their accounts held?  Who are their regular legal, finance, and tax advisors that will be most familiar with information you’ll need?  Where does your loved one keep their important documents, and have they put an estate plan in place that will allow a trusted friend or family member to assist them with their financial or medical affairs?

An inventory of all of your family member’s investments and other assets should be completed.  This would include bank accounts, brokerage accounts, real estate investments, life insurance policies, retirement accounts, savings bonds, etc.  Also, all mortgages, credit card accounts, and other debts need to be identified.  What recurring expenses need to be paid?  These would include utility bills, phone bills, internet accounts, water and sewer bills, among other things.  Finally, look at tax filings that need to be continued, both at the federal and state levels; getting copies of prior returns will help in preparing future returns.  Do not forget that if the family member has any online accounts, whether financial accounts or social media, getting user names and passwords for these accounts will be critical.

Long Term Care Policies.  One other often overlooked question is whether that family member has a long-term care policy in place.  If you discover your family member has a long-term care policy, take great care to look over the details of the policy.  Do you know what the policy covers and doesn’t cover and the benefit length and daily or monthly benefit amount? Recent years have shown a significant shift in what policies will cover, and a professional can help you gauge how to best address your loved one’s need for care with the most effective way to take advantage of their insurance coverage.

These changes in your loved one’s life are often a critical reminder, too, of how you may need to take steps to organize your own affairs.  If you haven’t yet, sit down and make a list of all of the information you’d want to know if your family was trying to care for you.  Investigate the options available to you for estate planning, and what types of insurance may be used to protect your own assets.

As you consider the options available for your loved one, keep in mind that for many families, the changes will not be drastic in the near term.  However, it is important to take a realistic look at how your loved one’s abilities may be changing over time and address issues early on, so that problems don’t become unmanageable.

Special thanks to the collaborative efforts of our Estate Planning attorneys, ACSIA Partners and MJG Coverage.  For more information on this article, or any other elder law question, please contact an attorney in our Estate Planning & Elder Law practice group.