Beyond Real Estate:  Helping your elderly family members

Beyond Real Estate:  Helping your elderly family members

Although this information is a bit more general than just helping your elderly family members when it comes time to sell or buy their next home, I hope this information can be helpful for your general planning purposes.

July 2022 was an interesting time for my husband and I as we left in the middle of the month for a quick out-of-state getaway.  During that short vacation, our mission in life changed instantly and we felt called to help my husband’s elderly parents through a catastrophic health situation.  We embarked on a labor of love that many adult children experience as elderly parents experience an unforeseen, serious health crisis.  Long story short, after a year away from home, my husband and I returned to Wisconsin in July of 2023.

Although hindsight is always 20/20, here are some things we find ourselves recommending to other family and friends who have elderly family members that have not yet faced or are starting to face serious issues.

  1. Strive to have open communication with your elderly family members because knowing more is better than knowing less. We talked with my in-laws every week and had a great relationship with them.  We visited them at least once or twice a year and they visited us at least once a year.  They were extremely independent, organized, educated and competent people.  Understandably, like many parents, they valued their privacy and were not comfortable discussing their health issues.  It turns out that my father-in-law had a health condition that we knew nothing about until that condition became a crisis.  It’s a sensitive situation but if you can help your elderly family members to become more open to sharing this sensitive information, knowing more is better than knowing less.

We wished we had asked them years earlier to shar information like a list of their close friends/neighbors, medications, doctors, and dentists.  While some elderly people may find this invasive, tedious, and time consuming, when the family members need to provide support and assistance, this information can be some of the most important information that will reduce response time, effort, and frustration.

  1. Consider making efforts to understand your family member’s financial situation even if it is just at a high level. Hopefully, you family members would feel comfortable sharing an overview of their financial situation, especially those family members who have been named Power of Attorney for finances and health.  Trying to get a handle on this information after a crisis occurs can be a distraction from focusing on the serious issue at hand.

Being proactive might mean asking your elderly family members to grant access/authorization to an adult child or other trusted family member in order to check on finances including social security accounts, utility bills, credit card bills, phone/cable bills, tax bills, medical and/or long-term health insurance, bank information, retirement investment institutions, and homeowner’s associations.  If necessary, look for any records regarding funeral planning that have been completed.

Overall, this process can be especially time consuming and overwhelming as you may need to be with your elderly loved ones to make phone calls or submit information online in addition to mailing signed authorization/release forms to the institutions.  Obviously, this is not a fun or quick process when dealing with a crisis but it could have been helpful if we had a few of the authorizations in place before my husband had to step in and help to make major decisions.  Giving authorization for just the critical institutions could be much easier for elderly people to execute while they are capable of doing this.

  1. Consider having discussions about your elderly family member’s ability to perform daily activities like driving, shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry, personal hygiene, taking medications, etc. to ensure that they are capable and safe. We visited with my in-laws at least three times a year so we were able to informally “evaluate” their abilities while we were with them.  Some parents can seem completely capable for short periods of time and it can be challenging to truly understand their abilities.

In addition, one person can become more reliant on the other person which can shift the balance of responsibility increasing the stress levels of the “more capable” elderly person.  While we surmised a little of this was going on, we did not know the full extent of how much my father-in-law had taken on.  We noticed a few years ago that my in-laws did not want to do as much cooking so we suggested they try out few meal delivery services to see if that might be a suitable solution for a few dinners each week.  For a Christmas gift, we provided a gift card for a local organic meal service. In addition, my in-laws hired a cleaning service to perform significant cleaning tasks once a month.  Shifting those tasks to professionals was a great decision!

  1. Consider taking a bit of time to help your elderly family members gather some documentation as it relates to their home. Having information such as property tax information, current title insurance (Owner’s Policy), list of updates/upgrades, recent contractor repair receipts and lien waivers, and general information like age of mechanicals, average utility bills, cable providers, etc. can make things so much easier when it comes time to sell.  The Realtor will need all of this information to market the property, execute the offer documents, and transfer the ownership of the property via a title company.
  2. When appropriate or necessary, consider talking to your elderly family members about making significant changes to their living situation – suggesting that they make “the move.” A few years ago, we started talking to my in-laws about making a major change so we could support the activities that we believed they were struggling with.  One parent was not interested in making any major changes and it was clear to us that the one parent did not want to make this major change.  While we respected that parent’s decision, it came with consequences.

I’m not sure if there was anything we could have done differently or better this past year in responding to the needs of my husband’s parents as they experienced a health crisis.  But sometimes love looks like spending extra effort and time with your elderly family members while they are perfectly capable and healthy.

Since we’ve been back home, some of our friends are starting to notice that their elderly family members starting to struggle with similar issues like getting to doctor’s appointments, making meals, and keeping their home clean and in good condition.  We’ve been able to provide some advice, recommendations, and resources that have proven helpful to us.  A lot changed in just one year.  I’d like to think that the experiences my husband and I had with my in-laws and our entire family served a higher purpose; I’m definitely more tuned in to how precious time with loved ones is how a missions in life can change in an instant.  We are not the first or last people to help our elderly family members through a crisis.  But hopefully, our experience can be helpful to you and your family.

Written by: Natalie Wolski-Kieffer

Natalie Kieffer, CRS, ABR

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