How Do You Care for Those Who Care for You?

By Daniel Sexton, CFP®

Spoiler Alert: We are getting older.  No big surprise here, nor is it a surprise that our nation is getting older too.  For years we have been hearing about the baby boomer generation entering retirement and the monumental changes that will come with it.  By the year 2030, it is estimated that in the U.S. people age sixty-five and older will, for the first time, outnumber children under the age of eighteen.

The “Aging of America” is happening and the affect will be (is) wide spread, impacting finance, healthcare, government and family.  An inevitable truth is that at some time many of us will be faced with having to take care of an aging spouse, parent, sibling or loved one for any number of reasons.  Maybe it is a physical limitation, illness or dementia. It can be for a limited time or indefinitely and care can mean many things including full time caregiving, bill paying and financial management, making medical decisions and/or just managing the caregivers.

Take a moment and think about the person who might take care of you.  What do they need to know that they don’t?  Do they know who your doctors or trusted advisors are?  Do they know what accounts you have and with which institutions?  Would they know where to find your trust or will?  Does your spouse know where to get all this information?

These are private matters and discussing them is difficult.  But, imagine having to find this information while at the same time taking care of a loved one.  Imagine the stress.  You don’t have to have a discussion right away, but there are some steps that would make it easier for somebody to step in and help when the time comes.  You may find that the process helps you to become comfortable with opening up about these subjects.

Simplify and Get Organized

  • Designate a place to store your critical information.
    • This could be a file cabinet, dresser drawer, shoe box or safe.
    • Make it one location and easy to get to.
  • Throw out all the stuff you don’t need.
    • Why are you holding onto that old car insurance policy for a car you no longer own? Toss it.
    • Tax returns older than 7 years, those can go too.
  • Go Paperless.
    • Buy a scanner and convert your paper documents to digital that can be kept on your computer or in the cloud.

Make a List (or two or three or…)

  • Make a list of your advisors.
    • Include the name and contact information of your financial advisor, CPA or tax preparer, insurance agent and attorney.
  • Make a list of your accounts.
    • Include the title of the account, the institution or bank where it is held, and the account number (for security use only the last four digits of the account number).
    • Take a moment to review this list. Can any of the accounts be closed or consolidated to simplify things? We find this is one of the most effective ways to reduce stress in our clients’ lives.
    • List out your policies with insurer, policy numbers and contact information.
  • Make a list of your Doctors and medication prescribed (if any).
  • Make a list of your hired help.
    • Include names and contact information for the gardener, housekeeper, plumber, electrician or handyman.
    • This might seem a stretch too far, but this can save a lot of time (and stress) for anyone who may need to assist with paying the bills. Think of what chaos a bad case of pneumonia and two or three weeks stay in a hospital or recovery center might bring.

Time for a Review

  • Estate Plan.
    • When was the last time your trust or will was reviewed by an attorney? If it has been more than five years, it is probably time.
    • Do your successor trustee(s) still make sense?
  • Do you have a durable power of attorney in place (for both finance and medical)?
    • Do they still reflect your wishes?
    • Are the people you selected the ones you want making decisions on your behalf?
  • Review and update the beneficiaries of your retirement accounts such as an IRA, 401k or annuity.
  • Review your homeowners, auto, and umbrella policy limits. Are they adequate given your financial position?

Look Around the House

  • Are items reachable?
    • Move the most used items to lower cabinets or drawers for ease of access.
    • An easy to use, sturdy step stool/ladder may work too. I’ve seen step ladders as part of kitchen cabinets that pull out like a drawer.
  • Consider hand rails and no slip surfaces in the tub and shower areas. They might not be stylish, but they go a long way to allowing people to live more independently in their homes longer.
  • What changes or modifications might you plan for?
    • Remove or modify a stepped walk way to the house.
    • Install a (low) step in tub.
    • Move a bedroom downstairs.

Planning now will make it easier for everyone involved in the future.  If you have already done your planning, what did you do or plan for?  Is there something you thought of that did not seem important but turned out to be?  We would love to hear about it.