Dad’s aging. It’s hard for men to see their fathers’ age, although the alternative is worse. Dad doesn’t want your help with anything. He can still take care of his finances, drive his car, and repair the house. But sooner than later, whether he wants to admit it or not, he will need your help.
Aging dads fall into two categories: those who accept aging and those who refuse to give up control. How can you help when it becomes clear that Dad needs you, and the roles of parent and child begin to reverse?
Dads who can accept your help may still be a little cautious. Your first discussions need to be about what, if any, estate planning they have done. They may say it’s not time yet to talk about these matters. One father said they’d cross that bridge when he got to it, to which his child replied, “Dad, you’re already on that bridge.” A light touch of humor will help you both.
Start by asking if he has met with an estate planning attorney to have a Will, a Power of Attorney, a Health Care Proxy, and a Living Will created. If not, explain what you have done for your own family and why it’s essential for you as a father and him as a grandfather to take care of this. Ask if he’d like you to introduce him to your estate planning attorney or if you have any family members with whom he would be comfortable asking for recommendations.
Some fathers will be willing to have their adult sons go with them to meet with an estate planning attorney. Others will prefer to keep it a private meeting. Either way is acceptable, as long as a plan is in place. Respect your father’s choice but do keep the attorney’s contact information.
Talking about planning for incapacity is harder for some people than discussing death. The conversation may have already occurred if he has had health issues, but if he’s healthy as a horse, he may push back on this one. It still needs to be discussed.
What resources are available if needed for long-term care? If he owns a long-term care insurance policy, find out where it is so you can access it if and when the time comes. Does his estate plan include a Medicaid Asset Protection Trust (MAPT), or has any Medicaid planning been done?
You’ll also want to talk with dad about providing information for financial, legal, and medical contacts. This can be a little overwhelming, so it may help to break this into a series of categories. Try setting a deadline for one checklist a week.
This is the contact information you’ll want to gather:
Legal and Financial
Estate Planning Attorney
Checking and Savings
Insurance Policies – Home, Auto, Umbrella
Primary Care Physician
Any other health care providers
Medicare or Health Insurance Company
Mortgage or Rent
Auto Loan or Lease Payments
House of Worship
These are not easy conversations for many adults, so be patient with your father. It may take a while for even the most easy-going men to become comfortable sharing this information and disclosing their financial picture.
What about the father who refuses to have these conversations and has done no planning? This is a challenging situation for a loving son who wants what’s best for his father. As long as he is competent, you can’t force him to have an estate plan created or to tell you how his bills are paid or what kind of funeral he wants.
If your father shows signs of incapacity, it may be time to begin the process of petitioning the court so you or another family member may be named his guardian. Common signs are failure to maintain basic hygiene, inability to eat, not going to necessary doctor appointments, inability to manage financial affairs, and the like. You will need an estate planning attorney to petition the court for guardianship or conservatorship. This is a long and challenging process but may be necessary.
When a guardianship is awarded, you’ll be able to make significant decisions on behalf of your father concerning his housing, financial matters, and caregivers. He may not like your choices, so consider bringing a geriatric social worker onto the team to help your father, you, and other family members resolve his needs. Professionals specializing in senior care are familiar with this situation and can help you and your father navigates this challenging part of life.