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Care For Parents: Planning Ahead

It’s becoming more common for children to be called upon to take care of one or more of their aging or ailing parents and finding themselves at a loss to do so.

Don’t panic, say authors Susan Beerman and Judith Rapport-Musson. Applying common sense and foresight, those who look out for the elderly can plan for some of the crises that are common in old age.

For example, does Mom have severe arthritis or osteoporosis, is she reluctant to wear her eyeglasses when walking, or does she become dizzy after taking certain medications? (Falls occur most often among people who take four or more medications daily.) Then be prepared for a call that she has fallen and broken a hip, an injury that decreases life expectancy by 10 to 15 percent and negatively affects overall quality of life. Take time today to research rehabilitation facilities and care centers near your home to be prepared if that unfortunate event occurs, say the coauthors of The Eldercare 911 Question and Answer Book.

Also set up a caregiver emergency kit that includes the person’s Social Security number, home and car keys, up-to-date list of medications, living will, and power of attorney.

Use a third party
“I’m a busy person with my own life and family,” you say. “How am I supposed to handle all that I have to do to care for this person?” You will do it gradually and at your convenience if you work in advance, or suddenly and stressfully if you don’t, say the authors.

Older adults often respond better to written communications and third-party interaction, notes Randalynn Kaye of Wyndemere Senior Living Campus in Wheaton, Illinois. “Being able to read a letter on their own time and terms, or talk with a person they look up to, allows seniors to feel that they are part of the decision-making process,” she says.

Dan Taylor, an attorney and author who specializes in elder-care issues, says he has found that most parents will reject a son or daughter’s financial advice, even if it is sound, but they will accept and implement an identical proposal from a qualified third party, such as a financial planner. You might even offer to pay for their visit to the planner, but don’t attach conditions to the visit.

If you are an executor
Parents can usually be convinced to write a will, but getting them to update their estate plan as the years go by can be difficult. Sometimes widows still have a will leaving everything to their now-deceased husbands, or there are no clear directions in the will about who gets what.

If you know in advance that you are going to be executor of someone’s estate, you can take steps to ensure that things go smoothly when the time comes. Start by reading and understanding the document. If anything seems unclear, consult the lawyer who drew up the will. Pay special attention to provisions regarding distributions.

“If some relative comes in and says, ‘She always wanted me to have that chair,’ as the executor, you’ll have to sort it out, ” says Mary Randolph, an attorney and vice president at Nolo, a publisher of self-help legal information.

Surviving spouse
If you are both a surviving spouse and the executor, contact your spouse’s former employer about any unpaid salary, profit-sharing, or commissions and the value of any life insurance or 401(k) accounts. Also ask if you are entitled to any survivor’s medical coverage. Call the Social Security Administration at (800) 772-1213 or go online to for any benefits due.

If the deceased spouse served in the military, the survivor may be entitled to a military pension, death benefits, and/or funeral and burial costs. Contact the Department of Veterans Affairs at (800) 827-1000 or


There’s plenty of help available to watch after an elderly person:

The personal emergency response system sends out a call for help if needed. High-tech versions are offered by QuietCare, (800) 658-6939 or online at, and GrandCare, (262) 338-6147 or

If rehabilitation is needed, consider going on the Web to, which specializes in elder-care management; Kentucky Association of Homes & Services for the Aged at (502) 992-4380; or look under “Elder Care” or “Nursing Homes” in the Yellow Pages of your local telephone book.

Need an attorney? The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, (520) 881-4005 or online at, can assist in finding an elder law attorney in your area.

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