Caring for aging relatives


Adam Frank

Managing Director, Head of Wealth Planning and Advice, J.P. Morgan Wealth Management

A conversation about wishes

Open communication is essential to helping aging relatives with their finances and other sensitive topics. Parents and adult children are often reluctant to have these conversations. Often, older people may feel concerned about losing control or their privacy. It’s important to approach these conversations with sensitivity and patience. 

Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Stay calm and address the topics in a non-threatening way. You may have to start the conversation a few times before your loved one is ready to open up.
  • You could choose a family member or person outside the family who has a good relationship with your relative and will be able to approach the conversation with compassion. 
  • Consider engaging an elder-care lawyer to help with planning and framing the conversation.

What are some of the questions you might want to discuss?

Health issues, medical insurance, help with making decisions in case of incapacity, and help paying bills and keeping finances in order are some of the most frequently encountered concerns. 

  • Are they able to carry on the activities of daily living – crossing the street, preparing meals, bathing, etc.? Is there a plan for when these activities become more difficult? Do they have long-term care insurance? If not, are they still able to purchase a policy? Does it make sense to do so? If your relative would like to preserve assets for younger generations, consider Medicaid planning.
  • Decision-making can become more challenging as some seniors age. Does your loved one have a current power of attorney, living will and health care proxy? Has your loved one appointed someone as a fiduciary, which is a person designated by law to act in another person’s best interest if they become unable to make their own decisions? Which relatives or friends are named as fiduciaries? Have you listed a trusted contact person on your accounts?
  • Understand your loved one’s assets. This may take time. Are estate planning documents in order? What mechanisms are in place to ensure continuity of asset management, bill payment, etc.? Does your loved one have a revocable trust? Has a guardian been appointed? Are all parties in agreement about finances? For example, joint bank accounts, while convenient for the joint owner who is providing the care, can have unanticipated consequences, depending on state property laws. Heirs may also have different views about how assets in the joint account should be distributed upon the elderly joint owner’s death.
  • Finally, listen to your loved one’s end-of-life wishes. Who will be involved in their care, helping to make medical decisions?

You are not alone. Build a team.

Elder care – on top of work, family and other aspects of day-to-day life – can be an overwhelming responsibility. Share the work. In addition to help from family members, professional help is also available for numerous aspects of elder care. Try to get agreement on the plans for care from a majority of, or all, family members.  Ask for advice from a coordinating physician or other health care provider, a financial advisor, an elder-care lawyer and anyone else you think might be helpful.

Above all, have your own support system in place as you navigate what can be an emotional and challenging process.

A J.P. Morgan advisor can help you identify and coordinate your team so that you have less to worry about as your relatives continue to age.

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