From Generation to Generation: How to talk about LTC financial planning & impacts on family.

As baby boomers turn 65 at a rate of 10,000 each day, an entire generation is looking at their retirement and asking what it will look like to age well? How this question is answered will have a multigenerational impact. Big life decisions may seem private and individual, but the more time goes by the more impact financial planning or lack of planning has on the adult children of the baby boomer generation. It can be difficult to have open conversations between the generations about finances and the logistics of aging. A central starting point to the conversation is acknowledging that aging well and elder care is indeed a family affair.

Shaping the Dialogue

Talking about the potential need of care later in life before it occurs is so beneficial for families and it allows them space to emotionally process and logistically plan for that potential reality. In the pressure of a crisis, the dialogue can quickly breakdown and produce an undesirable outcome for both the aging adult and the family. Here are a few tips and topics for adult children to open up the money talk with their aging parents:

Tips for Opening Up a Difficult Conversation

  • Ask to set aside a dedicated time to have this specific conversation about finances, savings, insurance, and long-term care.  
  • Define a set start and end time for the conversation. Schedule another time if more is needed.
  • Choose a neutral safe space and minimize distractions
  • Give aging parents time to process and respond
  • Really listen to the fears and hopes of your aging loved one
  • Communicate your fears and the impact on you as well as your hopes
  • Find resources and good information to help guide decisions
  • Document next steps or conclusions arrived at during the conversation

The Content of Conversations: Topics to Cover 

Long-Term Care Insurance: Many aging adults don’t feel that they will need long-term care (LTC) in their lifetime; however it is helpful to think about the two different types of triggers for long-term care needs. One trigger is a traumatic event. This could include an accident, brain injury, stroke, diagnosis with a disease, disability, etc. These types of incidents are usually random tragedies that we all feel are terrible but we will likely escape. The second type of trigger is old age. The difference here is that we all hope to age and live a long life. What can be more difficult to consider is the high likelihood that we will need support and care in the last years of our lives. Our longevity presents us with the challenge of trying to anticipate and cover the medical and care costs associated with long life. Regardless of what triggers the needs, long-term care insurance purchased during years of health can provide a huge safety net from financial costs of care later in life.    

Asset Preservation: One of the risks of being uninsured is that costs from long-term care lasting even a few years will quickly deplete life savings. In order to qualify for Medicaid all personal resources must first be drained. Long Term Care Insurance is certainly an investment, but it does protect the other investments that have been made over a life time. If long-term care is not the direction your aging parents want to take, then it will be all the more important for them to set aside a savings safety net of sufficient funds to cover both out of pocket medical costs as well as potential long-term care needs.

Expectations of Family Involvement in Finances and Care: For those family members that make up our safety nets, we have to ask the “what if” questions with our loved ones. What if there was an emergency? What if dad had a stroke? What if mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s? There is often a great deal of fear and denial around the increased health risks as we age. By confronting and making room for the possibility of a difficult situation, we actually better prepare our families to address the needs should they occur. Whether you are thinking about the future or addressing a current crisis, families and siblings need to be able to talk to aging parents about the expectations that each has for the other. Is an aging parent expecting to be able to have care or financial assistance from their adult children? Is an adult child expecting that their parents are properly insured and saving for retirement and won’t need their help? Is one sibling expecting that another sibling will help an aging parent if they need it? Mismatched expectations are often at the heart of family confrontations around elder care.

Plans for Aging in Place: While many conversations we have with aging parents about the future are logistical in nature, sometimes a helpful gateway into the logistics is to talk about wishes, goals, and dreams around aging. Asking open questions like, “What does it look like to age well?” or “What kind of life do you see yourself living in 5-10 years?” can build the foundation for conversation. With those goals in place, you can then begin to have a conversation about the financial scaffolding that is needed to support and build that vision.  

Understanding Options: One of the biggest ways that adult children can advocate for and empower aging parents is to make sure that they have access to the resources they need to make informed decisions about their future. Ask an aging loved one if they understand their choices around Medicare, Social Security, insurance, etc. Pursuing the information together can create a better outcome than if you remain silent or assume it is already take care of.   

Financial Power of Attorney: In the event that an aging loved one was unable to speak for themselves, pay bills, or make financial decisions, it is also important to think about who would execute their wishes and speak on their behalf.  There are different types of Power of Attorney including financial, healthcare, and Durable Power of Attorney. Talk to your aging loved one if they have thought about that need, who they would want to have that responsibility, and how wishes would be communicated to a power of attorney.    

The financial planning of one generation doesn’t just impact the next generation in terms of long-term care needs, medical costs, or asset preservation. When we plan in the presence of the next generation and allow them a window into the challenges, questions, thought processes and plans we are facing, that experiential knowledge and insight is passed to the next wave of aging adults who will also have to figure out what it means to age well in their own time. If you are looking for a way to begin the conversation with an aging parent, a one-hour consultation with a Geriatric Care Manager is a great place to start. As experts in elder care they have accompanied many families in their journey to finding and paying for appropriate care and creating a quality of life for aging loved ones. More information at     

Published on July 31, 2014.