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Avoiding Caregiver’s Stress: A Health and Financial Checklist

Jane Olshewski, BA, TEP is the Manager of Financial Life Planning at Investors Group in Winnipeg, specializing in retirement planning and boomer issues. She has many years of experience in pension administration and holds the Certified Senior Advisor (CSA) designation.

There comes a point in time when the tables eventually turn and children find themselves taking care of their aging parents. More and more Canadians are finding themselves at this turning point, providing help of some kind, whether it’s emotional, logistical or financial support.

A recent study from the Canadian Index of Wellbeing revealed the percentage of Canadian adults providing care to seniors grew from 17 per cent in 1996 to 20 per cent in 2006. In 2009, the Investors Group Boomers on Call poll of Canadian baby boomers revealed that seven-in-ten (69 per cent) still have at least one living parent or parent-in-law, and of this group, one-third (35 per cent) say they provide some type of care.

Providing help to your parents is a natural thing to do, but caregivers beware.  The demands of helping out can sneak up on you – tasks as simple as cutting the grass can evolve into major financial or health-related decision-making. To avoid burnout and ensure that both parties have the support they need, creating a solid caregiving plan is essential.

What is a caregiving plan?

A caregiving plan provides two important things. It gives the person needing care the opportunity to express their wishes for the level of care they want to receive, and it removes many unknowns so you will feel less anxious and more confident about your role and responsibilities.

It’s important to put together a caregiving plan before the need becomes critical, when you have time to talk things over with everyone involved.

But how do you start?

Gather the right information

A caregiving plan should include both health-related and financial planning information, and identify resources that are available to you. As a first step, you can do some research on your own:

  1. Learn all you can about your parent’s condition. When you better understand the diagnosis and treatments, you’ll be more knowledgeable when discussing health care needs.
  2. Talk to your family doctor to better determine the nature and extent of care your parent might need so that you can anticipate and plan. Also, talking to other family members and friends about any assistance they may be able to provide.
  3. Check out community support programs in your area that can supplement the care you and others provide. For example, a program like Meals on Wheels can provide some workload relief.

Avoiding caregiver’s stress a health and financial checklist

Avoiding caregiver’s stress a health and financial checklist

Have ‘the talk’

While some research is useful, the best – though not always easiest - way to get the information you need is to talk with your parent.

You’ll need to discuss:

  • Health care basics: Know the location of medical records and contact information for doctors and specialists. Eventually, as care needs progress, you’ll need to maintain this information.
  • Financial Basics: Be sure you know the location of your parents’ will and other legal papers as well as the location of their bank accounts, safety deposit boxes and other financial information.
  • Income: What are your parents’ sources of income and do any conditions apply?
  • Expenses: What are your parents’ expenses? Will their income be sufficient to cover projected personal care costs that may escalate with age?
  • Investments and Insurance: What do they have, and with which companies? Where can you quickly find information about what’s available? Who are their financial advisors?
  • Wills, Power of Attorney and Health Care Directives: Do these documents exist and are they up-to-date? Do they reflect your parents’ wishes now?

Above all, don’t expect to cover all these issues in an hour or two. To help you break the ice, keep in mind that your parents may be waiting for an opportunity to have this discussion about their future, and they may be glad to have you start the conversation.

What are your thoughts on this article? Let us know in the comments.

Cover your own bases

Along with addressing all of the above, be sure to remember your own financial wellbeing. For example, find out about the tax credits available, such as the medical expense, disability or caregiver credits and how to claim them.

Also, it’s worth investigating whether your parents can qualify for long term care insurance, which can provide money to help cover the costs of medical care, home care and expenses including daily care. While you’re at it, you might consider long term care insurance for yourself, as part of your own care giving plan. A financial advisor can help you decide whether this option makes sense for your own financial planning needs.

Put it all together

When you’ve completed your caregiving plan, it’s a good idea to review it with everyone concerned – including your parents, anyone else involved in their care, and even their medical care providers – to ensure that the plan is realistic. As time goes by and your parents needs for care evolves, be sure to review the plan regularly and adjust it as needed.  This can help you decide how much you can handle yourself, and where to find help when you need it.

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