When the child becomes the parent, and the parent becomes the child

Where did you and your elderly family members spend their hard lockdown? Has this changed? It feels like a lifetime ago that Uncle Cyril had his first family meeting during which he sent us into hiding from The Crazy New Virus. Rather abruptly, facing your mortality was no longer just something to consider as you near your golden years. Apart from your own, private Angst, it expanded your Reasons To Lie Awake at night as you worry about your children, your elders, and how to take care of everyone you love.

This article is for you – the adult child of aging family members

As an adult child of frailer folk, you will no doubt have felt your stress levels going through the roof. But you are still here. I hope that you are vaccinated. I hope your parents are vaccinated. I hope that soon, your kids will get their jabs. Many of us have lost family members and the grief may still be raw and ongoing.

I can imagine that you are thinking – pleading – give me just a little more time… I am not ready. Whereas I cannot help you deal with the past, I can offer you some thoughts on things you can do NOW, moving forward.

What I need you to know

I need you to understand that, from a life management perspective, things get complicated, as you age. It isn’t just a matter of dealing with ‘what happens when my relative is gone’ – it is equally, and perhaps more so, about ‘what happens whilst they are still here’. Managing another’s affairs is not a simple matter, even if you are their closest kin. There are legal complications, which falls outside of the scope of this article.

I urge you to seek advice from a professional – you AND your family member will need a financial advisor, and possibly need to consult an attorney, a tax professional, as well as professionals, who may be able to give you and yours medical advice. Should you live abroad, there may be additional challenges to consider.

I offer these thoughts as pointers to explore with the relevant parties. Every situation will be unique. The only two sure things I can tell you is that there is no better time than NOW but also, that you do not have to go it alone.

Instead of giving you one long list, I will break it down into two sections – the first section focusses on your relative and their needs and the second, on what you need to consider and do:

The aging family member

  1. Home support
    • Has physical safety in their home been reviewed and is it time to declutter?
    • Do they have an alarm that works, is being used, have a panic a button, and which is attached to a rapid response company?
    • Who has keys to their residence?
    • Do they have easy access to food delivery?
    • Do they have a cleaning service?
    • What is the family plan if they cannot look after themselves?
  1. Medical decisions
    • Do you have access to their medical information and providers?
    • When last did they have a medical check-up?
    • Do they have reliable transport for their daily needs and in emergencies?
    • How is their medication being delivered and monitored?
    • Do they, or your family, have an emergency fund that is easily accessible?
    • If there are co-payments or procedures not covered by medical aid, how will this be managed?
  1. Emergencies
    • Who will do what in the short, medium, and longer-term and have family members discussed and agreed to this – on paper, if needed?
    • Do they have a Living Will – a list of wishes of what they want done, should they become ill or pass on?
    • Has this been discussed with the family and their medical, financial, and legal professionals?
  1. Financial and administrative support
    • What are their sources of income and how do they receive this?
    • Have you been to the bank to set up signing rights in an emergency and have they given you access to their passwords?
    • How are their bills paid, where, and how are they received? When last have these been reviewed?
    • Are they adequately insured and are the details, such as their contact details and marriage status up-to-date?
    • If they drive, is their insurance, license, and maintenance of their vehicles up to date?
  1. Legal documents
    • Do they have a Will and has this been updated?
    • Do they have a funeral policy, or have they been added to a family policy?
    • Does someone have access to, and copies of, all their legal documents like identity documents, marriage certificates, and policy documents?

Your role

  1. Your relationship with the family member
    • Do not think you are there to save them from themselves and that you know best – ASK what they need and how you can assist. They still have the right to make their own decisions, even if you do not agree with them.
    • Be patient, kind, clarify, give them time to work through their emotions and fears. Nobody likes to think, much less discuss, the issues raised in this blog.
    • Do not only focus on the negative – spend time reminiscing about the past and celebrate the good that is still present.
  1. Your relationships with the rest of the family members
    • You may not be on good terms with the rest of the family, but you are going to need their buy-in. Set up a family meeting – virtually if need be. Make use of the technology available and record the meeting. Just remember it is illegal to do so without their consent! Consider having a professional present who can mediate if need be.
  1. Your relationships with their professionals
    • Make sure your family member introduces you to their Financial Advisor and whomever else is on their team. Make sure you have their contact details as well as physical addresses and keep these current!
  1. Practical concerns
    • Hope for the best but plan for the worst. Remind everyone of what the plan is and review it, as circumstances may change. Make sure you and the family know what to do, should you need to travel to your relative. If you live in a foreign country, consider travel restrictions and possible quarantine requirements.
  1. Legal concerns
    • Power of attorney falls away, should someone become mentally unable to make decisions. Make sure you get advice on this from a reputable source. You cannot skip this or leave it until the last minute. Make sure you know what needs to be done legally, what kinds of documents need to be submitted where and who will do so.

Final words

Well done for reading to the end. These things are not pleasant to think about, not easy to consider and even more complicated to set up! Feel free to use this list, not as a definitive fountain of financial or life advice, but as a starting point to discuss these matters in a dignified and organised manner. Speak to an Advice-based Financial Planner that is knowledgeable about financial matters across the lifespan and who will not just sell you more products.

Know that emotions will arise – in you and all those affected. Not everybody can process these things in one go – you may have to break it down in more manageable steps. Look at yourself and others with soft eyes and help all to identify what support they may need to work through these.

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