An incident late in the year of 2003 brought great change to my life; my father-in-law passed away, and my mother-in-law moved in with us the very same day.  I remember with great clarity how my wife and I frantically altered our oldest daughter’s bedroom and placed some of Mom’s items in it to make her feel more at home.  She was 88, and lived with us for eight years.   It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t always fun.

Just a year later, Hurricane Charley struck Orlando, Florida, and destroyed my own mother’s house.  Fortunately for me,  my younger brother and his wife took Mom into their home, and were able to care for her until her death in 2006.In spite of the fact that my wife and I cared for her mother eight years and faced many challenges (if you haven’t taken the car keys away from a parent yet, good luck), I never had to concern myself with any of the legal or financial issues because my brother-in-law took care of both.  As the designated executor of my own mother’s estate, however, I had a responsibility to both her, and my brother.

Shortly after Mom got settled-in, I drove to Florida to visit, provide help as needed, and to have a serious, but necessary, family discussion.  The visit was a lot of fun, and there was much laughter revisiting joyous memories together.  I’m certain that in that laughter was also a vast release of tension, knowing that Mom was safe, and that she was in a great place at just the right time in her life.

After breakfast Sunday morning, as I prepared to return home and to my practice, we lingered at the kitchen table over coffee.  It was time…  So where was Michael Landon when I really, really needed a great script (ever notice how he always had exactly the right words to say at exactly the right moment for any situation on Little House on the Prairie)?

Although I had rehearsed my words and presented my queries as a “benefit statement” (“So, Mom, in order for us to provide the care you need…”), Mom’s angry response was entirely predictable:  “You’re just after my money, and I’m not even dead yet!!!”

You see, Dad had passed away years before, and none of us knew what Mom’s financial status was.  We didn’t know if she had adequate assets, investments, long-term care insurance, or much of anything really.  And we had to address the fact that my brother’s cost of living was going to increase due to the purchase of additional food, power, and gasoline (for transportation) at the very least.

We did ultimately resolve the issue, and agreed upon a monthly stipend that Mom would pay to my sister-in-law to account for the additional costs associated with Mom’s presence.  All in all, then, I completed the uncomfortable task as the responsible son, but I clearly wish I had handled the task with less anger and emotion.

“Having the Talk” with our aging parents is a very difficult task.  Perhaps the best way to handle this sticky issue is to simply start before a crisis.  “Mom, Dad, my wife and I are working on our retirement planning, and we really wanted to know what it is that you might expect of us in your later years….”  Such a query opens the door for further discussion in an unemotional way.

Information you’ll ultimately need, when you do “Have the Talk,” include:  What are your assets?  Is it enough?  Is it safe?  Do you have a safety deposit box, and in which bank?  Where is the key?  Do you have any existing liabilities? Who are your advisors?  Do you have a written will and living will?  Are they current?  Where are they?  Who is your attorney?  Who are your doctors?  What are your medications?  Can you allow us HIPAA  authorization to look after you?  Do you have a long-term care insurance policy?

As I said, caring for my mother-in-law wasn’t always easy or fun, but asking my own mother questions like these around my brother’s kitchen table one Sunday morning was an experience I’d prefer to have missed….

According to a study released this year by U. S. News and World report, nineteen million Americans are providing direct care for a parent over the age of 75.  Get ready, you’re time is coming….


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