Financial planning tips for every family caregiver

By Rebecca Holcomb

Taking care of family in the best of times can be difficult. Some estimates claim 18.2% of the US adult population, or more than 43 million Americans provide unpaid in-home care for an adult relative. The numbers go higher as the cared for get older or when Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia are taken into account.

Caring for an ailing family member or one at the end of life can be daunting. Exhaustion, an endless routine, and a constant need to be ready can drain even the healthiest caregiver. There have not been a lot of studies on what many are calling ‘caregiver syndrome.’ However, a recent survey found that 70% of all caregivers in retirement age, die before the person they are caring for.

The mental, physical and spiritual strain on the body can be so critical that a caregiver’s life can drain away while trying their best to care for their loved one.

With this in mind, here are some tips to help family caregivers do the near impossible.

Routine Conversation

When a loved one gets sick and needs long-term care, dealing with the ramifications usually falls on the next of kin. If the person is married, it’s their spouse. Or, in the case of elderly parents, it might be a child. A sibling might step in with a brother or sister who gets sick.

End-of-life choices and financial decisions can significantly impact your health and the health of those you care for.

Some of the topics that need to be discussed repeatedly as circumstances change are:

What part do you want the caregiver to play in tending to your financial assets

  • ? If you don’t want them to play a role in your finances, who will facilitate those decisions?
  • Where do you keep your estate documents? Have they been updated to reflect your current last wishes?
  • If you are sick and need long-term care, how can the caregiver make you most comfortable? What resources are available to help ensure you’re well taken care of?
  • How do you want to be remembered?

If an illness runs long, the person being cared for may change their minds repeatedly on the above questions, especially if cognitive decline is a factor.

Dementia and Other Cognitive Issues

One area that can be prevalent in long-term care is the incidence of cognitive decline. This is the gradual deterioration of mental faculties due to neurological or physiological disturbances.

Dealing with these situations can be arduous as they often take years to take full effect. Getting important issues taken care of beforehand is essential to ensuring your loved ones get the care they need.

Some factors to consider if a loved one is showing signs of cognitive decline are:

1. Financial Power of Attorney (POA): Ensuring that someone can make medical and financial decisions for your loved one is crucial to their end-of-life care. In cases of cognitive decline that doesn’t respond to medication, a loved one’s ability to choose wisely for themselves may suddenly disappear. If this happens and a POA isn’t already in place, you’ll have to file a conservatorship instead.

2. Medicaid/Medicare : Medicaid is a government medical and dental insurance program for low-income families. Medicare is a government insurance program for individuals aged 65 and older. If your loved one qualifies for one or both of these programs, they can significantly impact the financial toll that long-term care can take on your loved one’s assets. Apply for them as soon as you think your loved one might qualify.

3. Alternatives to state-led programs: If your loved one doesn’t qualify for Medicaid, paying for long-term care can be expensive. Look for ways to cut those costs down.

  • Hire a part-time caregiver
  • Hire a family member
  • Ask your loved one’s doctor to prescribe a nurse
  • Take advantage of technology and community resources

Scheduled Breaks

One area that caregivers often overlook is their own mental and physical health needs. Even if your loved one has everything in order, managing it can take a toll. Scheduling routine breaks for yourself is essential to ensure you stay healthy and happy despite caring for an ill family member.

Some ways you can make sure you and your loved one are cared for are as follows:

Schedule a CNA or Nurse: Two to three times a week, allow for a medical professional to take over the job you usually tend to. A nurse or CNA ensures your loved one is cared for (if they are at home) and allows you to attend to other errands or take a break.

  • Involve a trusted family member: Enlisting help from a sibling or other family member can give you a much-needed reprieve. This once-a-week break (or more) is crucial to keeping your mental health intact.
  • Transition to Assisted Living: Despite most people not wanting to put their loved one into a facility, sometimes a transition to assisted living can help ease the pressure of constant, 24/7 care.

No matter how you handle it, scheduling time to rejuvenate can help ensure you are around during your loved one’s last years.

Dealing With Death

No matter how long your loved one is cared for, death is the great equalizer. Planning a funeral when a loved one has passed away can be overwhelming, especially considering most people only plan one or two funerals during their lifetime.

Taking time to grieve is critical to ensuring wise decisions are made concerning the funeral and aftercare for your loved one’s estate. Before making any choices about the funeral, read over your loved one’s legal documents, including their last will and testament. Doing so will give you time to understand and ensure your loved one’s final wishes are considered.

Once you have those in place and the funeral is over, the next step is dealing with their estate. This situation can be overwhelming, especially if their legal documentation isn’t complete or they have a large estate to distribute.

When partitioning your loved one’s estate, have their legal documentation handy to ensure you’re giving the right part of the estate to the right person. 35% of Americans say they’ve experienced family conflict over an estate that was mishandled or didn’t have an estate plan set up ahead of time.

Considering these situations can help family caregivers ensure they have a much easier time dealing with end-of-life care for loved ones and to deal wisely with estate planning issues that may arise after a loved one dies.

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