As you get older, you may still feel like your body is strong and your mind is sharp. But you recognize that a day may come when you’ll need some help from your children. If you take the right steps to plan and communicate what you need, you’ll make this difficult transition to caregiving a little bit easier for them.
We talked to Michelle Sheridan, a social worker with Banner Health, about what you can do to prepare for the time when you can no longer manage all aspects of your life on your own. “People are afraid to discuss these topics, but knowing and being able to honor your wishes is a true gift to your children if they ever have to take over,” she said.
To start, think through your wishes and needs and write them down. What lifesaving support would you want if you were seriously injured or ill? Who should carry out your wishes on your behalf? Sometimes it’s hard to start these conversations because you don’t know what you want.
Next, set up a time to meet with your children and share your thoughts and decisions. Here are some crucial documents to have in place and points to cover:
- Will. This document outlines how your estate should be distributed after your death.
- A medical power of attorney. With this document, you name someone you trust to make medical decisions on your behalf if you cannot. Be sure to include mental health powers and to name a primary and secondary person who can execute it if needed.
- Living will. This document shares your specific care wishes if you cannot make decisions, so your children have guidelines to follow. You can outline whether you want CPR, ventilation for breathing, feeding through a tube, certain medications or treatments, or other interventions.
- Organ donation. If you would like to donate your organs, be sure your children know your wishes so they can share them.
- A durable power of attorney. With this document in place, your children can pay bills, access money and make financial decisions on your behalf. It’s essential to make your children aware of your financial situation in case you ever need private care or placement in a care facility, or if you’re faced with an emergency. You may want to add one or more of your children as account holders to your primary bank account, so it’s easier for them to access money quickly if necessary.
- Mortuary wishes and planning. Let your children know if you have a preferred funeral home, whether you have an insurance policy that covers burial expenses, and if you prefer burial or cremation. Tell them if there’s anything specific you would like mentioned in your obituary.
- Long-term care insurance. If you have a policy that covers long-term care, let your children know how to access it.
- Accounts and assets. Maybe you opened an account at a bank in a city you used to live in, own some valuable jewelry or antiques, or have a safety deposit box. Make sure everything is documented, so nothing gets lost.
- Passwords. Even if you have all the correct documents in place, it can be a struggle for your children to access your accounts if they don’t know your passwords. If you use a password manager, share your master password. Otherwise, let your children know how to find your passwords. Be sure to share the passwords or PINs that unlock your main computer and your cell phone.
- Medications. Your children should have access to an up-to-date list of all the medications you take and their dosages. That way, if you have any sort of health emergency and they need to step in, they can share this list so doctors can check for possible side effects or reactions.
- Advisors’ names and phone numbers. You’ll want to make it easy for your children to contact your doctors, lawyer, accountant and other people you rely on if you cannot do it yourself.
- Key. Be sure your children can enter your home if they need to.
- Copies of insurance cards. This information makes it easier for your children to take care of your health care expenses.
You can put all these documents and information in a binder and give it to your children or keep it in a place they know and can access. “It is important for children to have a copy of these documents or at least know where they are so that if they get an emergency call, they are prepared to step in,” Sheridan said.
These conversations can be challenging, and they can bring up difficult emotions as you and your children consider a future where you’re no longer healthy and vibrant. But it’s essential to have them. You don’t have to talk about everything all at once. If your discussion gets too emotional, take a break and talk again after everyone has had a chance to deal with their strong feelings.
Once you’ve communicated everything, you should revisit the conversation once a year or so. Over time, your situation might be different—you might inherit money, which could change your financial situation. You might be diagnosed with a health condition, and you’ll have an idea of how that could affect your future. Or you may find that your preferences change as you age and enter new life stages.
The bottom line
It can be tough to think about not being as strong physically or having the cognitive abilities you have today. But it’s important to plan for a future where you might need to rely on your children for care. Getting your documents in place and communicating your needs can ease the burden on your children as you age. If you would like to connect with an expert who can help you prepare for these conversations, reach out to Banner Health.