The good news is that our parents are living longer than any generation before them, but the bad news that this often means we will be involved in protecting our parents. As they age, our parents may require extra care and we may find ourselves in the position of protecting our parents from financial elder abuse. Good communication lays the groundwork for protecting our loved ones and ourselves.
Benjamin Button is the only one who has bucked the trend (and he wasn’t even real) and we are all getting older. The number of Australians aged 65 and over is expected to increase rapidly, from around 2.5 million in 2002 to 6.2 million in 2042. That is, from around 13 per cent of the population to around 25 per cent. That is a fairly quickly aging population.
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There’s good news, though. According to a recent study by Fidelity Investments children are more than willing to support and care for their aging parents. There’s just a little bump in the road with this revealed by the survey: it seems that the majority of families are not in agreement on what that help should look like and the extent in which children should help. In fact, nearly two in five families disagree on the roles those children should play as parents age. Such mismatches can set up big emotional and financial problems later on, says John Sweeney, executive vice president of retirement and investing strategies at Fidelity. Families shouldn’t wait till a health problem or other unexpected event forces a rushed care-giving or financial planning conversation. Protecting our parents begins with a conversation while they’re healthy and independent.
When It Comes To Protecting Our Parents, There Are Divided Expectations
Expectations are divided. The survey helped to clarify some clear generational splits – not all of them negative. Nearly a quarter of children are planning to support their parents financially, but 90 per cent of parents thought that would be unacceptable, with only 30 per cent of children sharing that view. This is encouraging for our families. But the next statistics revealed show a failure to communicate.
90 per cent of parents think one of their children will become executor of their estate, but 27 per cent of their kids don’t know that they’re expected to take on the role. 75 per cent of parents have in mind that their children will take on long-term care-giving responsibilities, but 40 per cent of the adult children marked for the role had no idea. Then there are financial tasks. Almost 70 per cent of parents thought that their kids could help them with organising household expenses, budgeting and paying bills. About 44 per cent of the children were unaware that their parents wanted help in this department. Assumptions can be unhelpful and relationally damaging. Having clear thinking and clear communication about these issues is fundamental to continued good relationships. On the issue of protecting our parents, it’s also important to know that the main perpetrator of financial elder abuse is an adult son.
Awareness and Communication Essential
Being mindful of the challenges ahead is a really good starting point for families wanting to support well their aging parents. Sometimes there doesn’t seem to be much time to have those important conversations about getting older and the best course for individuals and their loved ones. Having a discussion about possible aged-care options is important while parents are still agile so that there’s not a last minute panic in finding somewhere if needs be. Not everyone needs this option, but it’s certainly something to consider as a possibility.
Christa Meek, an academic in genetics at Monash University, is married with two kids (11 and 13) and her parents are in their 60’s and enjoying their retirement. Her mother-in-law though has just been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment. Although many elderly people are able to stay at home with home care packages, this is not always the best option for families. She is very conscious of the experience of a friend who was the main carer after her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Her friend eventually sought the advice of a financial consultant, who specialised in navigating Centrelink requirements for aged care, as well as a private social worker to help find a suitable aged care facility. But she had only done this after a ‘nightmarish’ couple of years looking after her while trying to work and raise two young children. “She said it was a big mistake and damaging to family relations and her kids’ wellbeing,” Meek says. “She had to give up her job and was stressed and I’d say traumatised. That’s not a good outcome for anyone. ”
Family conversations with aging parents are best if they happen sooner rather than later, even if not everyone is comfortable with the topics of long-term care, estate planning and retirement living expenses. “Parents don’t want to acknowledge these issues and children feel uncomfortable raising them, but you can’t wait for the other person to bring the topic up,” says Sweeney. “You’re going to have to run a play around end-of-life care or death someday. You need to know the game plan and everyone’s role ahead of time.” Of his own family he says, “I had my family sit down and go through my parents’ finances and tackle these questions about eldercare and estate planning, and my mom hugged me at the end,” says Sweeney. “We all felt better that we had had these conversations, that we had heard from mom what she wanted.”
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Protecting Our Parents: Financial Elder Abuse is Alive and Well
The other reason these kinds of conversations about protecting our parents are important is because financial elder abuse is becoming all too common. Over five million older Americans are financially exploited each year by sophisticated scammers, caregivers or even members of their own family, at a cost of more than $36 billion annually. Helping your aging parents to be aware of this kind of exploitation and knowing some of their habits may make it easier to prevent and identify financial elder abuse. Here are some helpful tips for protecting our parents and yourselves:
Discuss their money. Find out where they keep their money. Talk to them about when they would like you to step in and help with management of day-to-day finances. Where so they keep all of their paperwork? Do they have professionals helping them? If not, you could help them to find a financial advisor, lawyer or accountant.
Be on the lookout for unusual changes. Help them to watch their bank accounts for suspicious activity. Are their bills up-to-date? Watch for signs that they may be losing track of their money.
Help them beware of scams. Simple things like putting their name on the do-not-call register are helpful in preventing them being scammed, but helping them to understand what a scam might look like will arm them against potential threats.
Make sure they understand what documents they’re signing. Encourage them to not sign anything without a professional that they trust to help them understand and act appropriately.
If you suspect that your aging parents are the victim of financial elder abuse then please contact us today. We offer a free, 10-minute phone consultation with one of our friendly, caring elder law practitioners.