How to Be At Your Aging Parent’s Bedside When They Are Very Sick

parent who is very sickWhen one of your parents is very sick, you may not know what to do or expect. The time you spend with them by their bedside is very important. It is time that you will never forget. You may find it very difficult and very uncomfortable to be there but you will be glad you did it when it is over.

People are very different in how they handle serious illness. You are just going to have to let them deal with it in their own way. They may just act the way you have always known them or they may seem like a totally different person to you. A lot depends on the type of illness they have and whether or not recovery is possible.

Your loved one may be afraid of dying, tired all the time, confused, unwilling to have visitors, afraid to be alone, not wanting to talk, restless, depressed, or wanting to talk all the time. None of these actions are unusual. The best thing you can do is to be prepared for the unexpected. Your primary goal should be to make them as comfortable as possible.

Just being there with your parent is the most important thing you can do. Do not worry about saying the right thing. You may even admit, “Mom, Dad, I don’t know what is the right thing to say to you. I just know that I want to be with you and I am happy to be here.”

If your parent is sick they may want you to hold their hand, softly stroke their hair, read to them, play some music for them, show them photographs, tell them family stories, listen to them, pray with them or just sit quietly with them. Try not to upset them and assure them that they aren’t a burden to you.

Be conscious of how long you stay. After awhile you will get a sense of how long is appropriate. If you notice them starting to close their eyes or lose concentration, it’s time to go. In most cases I would suggest not staying longer than an hour. Frequent visits are much more important than long visits. Don’t be offended if they tell you they want to be alone. Having family members visit you requires a lot of energy and can be very draining to those who are ill.

As difficult as it may seem, imagine that this is the last conversation you may have with them. This will help you say everything you need to say.

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Important Information You Must Save for Your Elderly Parents

Every time I speak before groups of babyboomers and their elderly parents I remind them of the importance of getting all their critical information down on paper or in a computer file that can be accessed by the family if there is an emergency.

What kind of information do you need close at hand? Copies of wills and trusts, durable powers of attorney, health care proxies and living wills should all be readily available. In addition the names and contact information for any family advisers(attorney, doctor, minister, banker etc.) should also be accessible.

Financial information such as the name and account numbers for bank and investment accounts should be listed. In addition the beneficiary statements for IRA’s, annuities and life insurance policies should be close at hand. Make sure these are up to date, and the beneficiary has not already passed on. Also make sure there are contingent beneficiaries listed if the primary beneficiary is deceased when the funds are released.

Last and perhaps more important than ever before. Make sure the internet addresses, usernames and passwords for any online financial accounts are readily available. When one of my clients passed away, his wife did not know the internet accounts he had utilized to manage his investments. The institutions would not give her any information about the accounts. She eventually had to hire an IT specialist to hack into his accounts and it took months!

A Guide for Babyboomers helping their elderly parents

A Guide for Babyboomers helping their elderly parents

Save info on important documents for your parents.There are a few ways to store all this information. One is a simple three ring binder. If you purchase my book “Can We Talk, A Financial Guide for Babyboomers Assisting Their Elderly Parents.” there is a section at the end of the book called the Lifefolio that has forms available for everything I have mentioned above. You can either tear those pages out or copy them and put them in the binder.

Another approach is to copy all the information digitally into a cloud system such as Dropbox or Google Documents. Then all family members who are authorized can access the information from any computer or tablet connected to the internet.

Whichever way you do it, do it now. You never know when there might be an emergency and you will need to access critical information for your parents.

8 Steps to Having a Successful Family Meeting with Your Elderly Parents

Have a Successful Family Meeting With Your Elderly ParentsA Family Meeting is an excellent way to get the family together to discuss important issues especially those that involve elderly parents. It is very useful to help Mom and Dad decide where they want to live, how to manage their future health care needs, their financial needs and their estate plan.

The meeting should include all of the adult children and both parents if possible. It is important to have a facilitator for the meeting that has no emotional attachment to any decisions which will be made. The Family Meeting is one of the most important steps in parent care planning.

Here are Eight Steps Necessary to have a Successful Family Meeting:



The adult child who is considered the “Alpha Child” or “Family Champion” should enroll everyone in the family to understand the importance of the meeting and secure their promise to be there.



The Facilitator should contact each member of the family in advance to  get to know them and hear their concerns and ideas for the meeting.



The Facilitator, based on conversations with each family member should construct an agenda and distribute it to each of them well in advance of the meeting to get their feedback and help them prepare for the meeting.

Parents should understand that their children are providing ideas and sharing their concerns and not trying to control them. When decisions are made the parents wishes take priority.



Family members should treat each other with respect and compassion. The meeting should be held in the context that the family members love and care for each other.



A family member should be assigned as the scribe, to record important decisions, open items and action items that must be completed.



At the end of the meeting open items and action items should be reviewed and assigned to a family member to be followed up. These tasks should be distributed amongst family members and not lie with just one or two people.

A plan for communication between family members should be established. This method of communication should be used to keep everyone up to date on the status of open items and action items.  

It’s Time to Talk Turkey With Your Aging Parents!

Mom's 90th BirthdayHave you had a conversation with your parents regarding what they want to do if one of them needs extended care? Will they stay at home? Who will take care of them? I know it may be difficult to ask these difficult questions but the holidays may be good time to begin the conversation. You don’t want to wait until they have a medical crisis before you start planning. No one makes good decisions when they are under a lot of stress.

So how do you begin the process? Here are my suggestions to get the ball rolling:

Go to the website www.agingwithdignity.org

Download a copy of the Five Wishes Document.

Complete the document for yourself. It will force you to make a lot of decisions regarding how you want to be treated if you become critically ill.

Sign the Five Wishes document and have two witnesses sign it. If you are in one of 42 states this now becomes a legal health care proxy and living will. (Check the website for those states where the form is not legal.)

Make several copies of the document and save the original in a protected place.

Share the document with your spouse and children and make sure they know where the original is.

When you visit with your parents over the holidays share your completed Five Wishes document with them. Tell them what the experience was like filling it out.

Leave blank copies of the Five Wishes for each of your parents and suggest that they might want to complete them.

Check in with you parent a few weeks later to see if they have completed the forms. If not set up a time to review the forms with them and help them fill it out.

This process is a painless way to open up the conversation regarding your parents’ wishes for their care. You don’t have to ask them the questions directly. The form provides you with the tools to gather the important information. You just ask your parents to read the questions on their own and answer them privately when they are ready. And the process of planning their future care has begun!

Check Your Aging Parents’ Life Policies For Expensive Mistakes

Mom celebrating New YearDo your aging parents have life insurance policies or annuities? If so, the first thing you must do is find the annuity or life insurance policies themselves. Don’t fret. If you can’t find them you can order replacement policies from the companies if you know the policy number and who the insured is.

Once you find your parents’ policies you must locate the beneficiary statements for each of them. The statement may be attached to the policy itself or just a separate form with the policy number identifying it. If you can’t find the beneficiary statement you must contact the insurance company to confirm who the beneficiary is. Type a letter and ask your parent (the owner of the policy) to sign it requesting a copy of the beneficiary statement.

You may ask why it’s so important to find these beneficiary statements. I checked one of my client’s life policies. A $100,0000 policy listed a former wife as beneficiary. It had never been changed. If he died she would have received the funds no questions asked.

Your parents may list someone who is deceased as beneficiary or may not have listed a contingent beneficiary. If there is no clear beneficiary the funds will be paid to your parent’s estate when they die, subjecting the proceeds to the cost and delay of probate. ( A listed beneficiary avoids probate!)

If the beneficiaries are out of date or incorrect your parent can change the beneficiary by submitting a new form to the insurance company. They may list as many primary beneficiaries as they like, stating the percentage going to each. They must also list contingent beneficiaries. If the primary beneficiary is deceased the proceeds will automatically go to the contingent. If none is listed the proceeds wiil again have to go through probate.

Once you have found the policies and determined that the beneficiaries are correct and the policy is still in force (check with the company again). Make sure you keep the policies and the beneficiary statements in a safe place. Make a separate copy of the face page of the annuity or life insurance policy and the beneficiary statements and keep them with your own records.

By the way when you check all these policies make sure you check your own too!