by Jeff Stern
No one wants to think about growing older or needing help — not me, not you, not even our parents. But if you have aging parents, this is a reality you’re either facing right now, or you are about to. When the time comes for them to look for assisted living or health care, will you be ready? Will you know what to do?
I’ve helped many seniors and their children through the process of downsizing. I recently helped my own mom, too. Because I knew the options and had a plan, the process was seamless. For many who put off thinking about it though, it becomes a bumpy, difficult journey. Here are my four tips for helping your parents downsize that will help ensure the process is a smooth one.
1. Parents over process — The most important thing to do is prioritize your parents over the process. People are more important than achieving the goal. Too often seniors — even one’s own parents — are disregarded, ignored or treated like children who get no say in what will happen with their future. It’s sad, dishonouring and completely unnecessary. Honour them by placing their needs over your preference and convenience. This needs to be their decision.
2. Assemble a team — Start assembling a team of professionals to look after your parents. This may be something your parents are willing to accept help with. If they are willing, try to be present to help interview each professional. The team should include an accountant, lawyer, real estate agent and financial planner. Each should have these qualifications:
• Specialized skills in the area of succession planning or working with seniors.
• Experience working efficiently and respectfully with seniors.
• References: will past senior clients refer them?
Willingness to work together. If the financial planner is not willing to talk to the accountant at my request, and work together to figure out a best plan, that’s a no-go. They need to be willing to work for their client, your parent.
To lack any one of these is a deal breaker. Get the right professionals.
3. Watch for ways you can help — Watch for how else you can help. Your parents may not recognize their needs, but you might see them. Maybe their flooring is so badly worn it’s a tripping hazard, but it happened so slowly, they don’t really notice it. Maybe the window caulking is loose or cracking or the driveway has a big hole in it. By noticing these things and offering to help (or arrange help), you demonstrate love and are a valuable team member yourself.
4. Hard conversations — Start having hard conversations. All the squirming and question-dodging in the world will not prevent the future from arriving. What about advance care planning? “Would you want us to pull the plug? Why or why not?” You may have to decide one day whether or not doctors should resuscitate.
I know, it’s no fun to think about. But at least now, when everyone is of sound mind and not in the middle of a life-or-death decision, it can be talked about in a clear-headed way. When it comes time to make those decisions then, you will all know it won’t be based on feelings or impulse, it will be a thought-out plan with which everyone agreed. The intense emotions of the moment will then be easier to tame in that time of stress.
If you take away just one thing though, let it be this: It’s all about the parents. Ultimately, your involvement as their child should not be as a manager of inconvenience, or as a doer of things. Your role is one of loving care, serving their needs, not your own.
Of the many, many instances of family strife I’ve witnessed, the common denominator was the selfishness of the children. I can’t say it strongly enough – if, when helping your parents downsize, you put their needs first, it goes much smoother. After all, it’s about them, no?
(Jeff Stern is a Winnipeg-based REALTOR®. The above article first appeared in REM, the Real Estate Magazine.)