Lessons Learned from Being an Elder Caregiver

When you are caregiver for your aging parents, the experience is valuable and you learn a lot. Some of our biggest difficulties have been when we have had to take some type of medical or legal action for our parents, and the proper planning had not taken place. Here are the top 5 lessons we’ve learned by being elder caregivers:

Document your medical preferences. It’s important to document what you want and don’t want (e.g., do you wish to be on life support?), the sooner, the better. Don’t wait until you’re a certain age to prepare a living will, health care proxy or other important medical decision documents. We’ve dealt with situations where we needed to make decisions for our loved ones. My father had my brother and I named as Attorneys-in-Fact, under a Power of Attorney (POA), but this particular POA didn”t specifically mention health care decisions. We almost had to apply for guardianship, which would have been difficult to acquire, due to his poor physical and mental health.

Get your other legal affairs in order. This means your will, guardianship decisions for your children, etc. Don’t put that off either. And always name a secondary person as your Executor/Executrix (or Personal Representative, as it’s called in some States). If you name one person and that individual is no longer able to take on this responsibility, it could prove problematic. Speak to an attorney to prepare the necessary documents.

For those who own a home, be sure to take care of protecting your biggest asset. Speak to an attorney to see who should be listed on the deed – should you have it listed in a trust or should you have multiple people listed on the deed? Should you apply for a homestead exemption? These are important things to discuss with a legal professional, well before it’s necessary, and especially if you ever need to enter any type of long term care facility.

You may want to think about purchasing long term care insurance. The costs (today) for a month in a nursing home or rehab facility are around $9000.00 USD a month, and are most often not covered by health insurance after a certain period of time. The costs are only going to rise. If you were to need such care, the monthly fee could quickly deplete any cash or assests you may have. Speak to a financial services professional (preferably fee based, not commission based, as Suze Orman recommends) to see if this option is best for you and your family.

Although it’s listed last, I think it’s the most imporant lesson – don’t wait until later to do the things you want in life. Whether it’s traveling, starting a business, taking up woodcarving, or some other dream, don’t wait to do it until you retire or say that you’ll do it ”someday.” Sometimes that “someday” never comes. We’ve (unfortunately) seen that happen all too often with our elderly parents.