Role Reversal and the Family Money Dynamic
It's critical that you acknowledge that everyone brings his or her own money hangups and “baggage” to the table when family members try to co-manage money. If relationships get strained, seek help from a family therapist or financial planner experienced in helping families communicate with each other about money.
How You Can Help — Sensitively
Use technology and the growing number of elder care options to help you help your parents without taking over their lives (or letting their care overwhelm yours). Financial accounts can be accessed online; houses can be cleaned and organized by cleaning services and professional organizers; yards can be tended by landscaping services; and basic and not-so-basic health care needs can be managed by home health aides. Face it: Maintaining a good relationship with your parent will take some money. It's important to budget carefully, but remember that what you're really buying is your parents' dignity and your sound relationship with them.
Not all services that will help your parents at home need to cost a lot. Check
Three Pitfalls to Avoid
First, don't fall into the trap of thinking of yourself as your parents' parent. This will put too much pressure on you, and your parents will rightly resent being patronized. If you find yourself slipping into this thinking, step back and find someone else to take the reins for a while.
Second, avoid thinking that your way is the only way. Remember that even if your parents are completely unable to manage their own financial affairs, you are still only there to help. There will be few circumstances in which you'll be the only one with an opinion on how to go about it. Keep an open mind, communicate with your parents and other family members as much as circumstances allow, and keep a thick skin.
Finally, seldom is any action set in stone. Your elder law attorney will guide you — because there are a few things related to asset transfers that actually are set in stone — but most of the decisions you'll help your parents make are not. Keep your choices in the “let's try this” category, and you'll be better ready to deal with change when it comes.
If you decide to employ a home health aide — even if she comes through an agency — you are responsible for payroll tax withholding and reporting for her. Ask the agency you're using, your insurance agent, or your accountant for a referral to a payroll service that can help you.
Three Key Things to Remember
First, you're an important gatekeeper. A big part of your role is to help find competent and trustworthy advisors for your parents and to ask questions. Elders are often the target of unscrupulous salespeople and scammers.
Second, keep communicating. Your parents' generation learned to be very self-reliant and independent. Keep the communication lines open as best you can, and make sure they are open when your parents are ready to talk.
Finally, record-keeping is important. Having accurate information to give financial advisors and attorneys is vital.