If like many of us, you visited your aging parents for the holidays, you may have noticed things just didn’t seem right. Maybe the house wasn’t in its usual neat and tidy state. Maybe Mom seemed more confused than usual. Or, maybe you and your siblings engaged in a spirited discussion about what happens when mom and dad are gone, leaving behind some resentment and hurt feelings. So, now what do you do? Bottle it all away until next year and see if things get better? Or, are there steps you should take now to make sure your parents are protected in the event of disability or incapacity and to help avoid family discord if one of them should pass?
- Give it time. The holidays are a busy and stressful time for all of us. Even the most put together person tends to get frazzled in December. If things still seem off in February, intervention may be necessary. Also, keep in mind that it’s not just Mom and Dad who may be a little off at this time of year. Wait until the hubbub has died down before calling your siblings with questions. Your brother may not appreciate a three-page email on his first day back to work detailing everything you thought was wrong when you visited. Also, you need time to gather information. Get some distance from the situation before you jump to conclusions. Talk to people outside the situation like family friends and neighbors to hear what they’re seeing, One bad visit does not a crisis make. It may just be a sign that you need to keep a better eye on things.
- Rally the troops. In most families, battle lines are drawn from a young age. You know which of your siblings is most likely to be supportive and helpful, who Dad is most likely to open up to and who should be left out of any sort of discussion. Get the best team together and agree on a plan of action. The most important piece of this puzzle is good communication. Keeping everyone on the same page can make your parents more receptive to help. One bad apple can spoil the whole plan. One rogue agent going off to find information on her own without cluing in the others can breed distrust from the start. Be as open as possible with each other to prevent misunderstandings. Share the burden as much as you can to prevent resentment. Even the most distant sibling can be assigned a task. Sometimes the best information can come from Mom venting on the phone to the one she thinks isn’t pestering her!
- Lend a helping hand. If you noticed expired food in the fridge, offer to pick some things up on your next trip to the store. Did the house seem cluttered and untidy? Straighten up a little bit next time you’re over. If they don’t object, go a little farther next time or consider buying Mom a cleaning service for Mother’s Day. Ask if Mom needs help sorting financial information to take to her tax preparer. This could be a good opening to seeing if finances are in order or bills are being paid. If you tread carefully and slowly instead of barging in with guns blazing, you may be surprised at how much you can accomplish.
- It’s okay to ask for help. If you think there are medical or neurological problems that aren’t being addressed, get permission to talk to doctors and health care providers. Ask family friends and neighbors to help check in and watch for possible signs of trouble. Find a good caregiver support group to lean on. Even if you’re an only child, you don’t have to take this on by yourself.
- Pick your battles. Is it critical that Dad’s medications are all correct? Absolutely. Is it worth arguing over Mom’s insistence on saving bread bags? Probably not. Should you start discussing possible assisted living options? Maybe. Arguing over Mom’s china? Put that on hold. Keep your focus on the critical issues of health and safety. Once those have been settled, your parents may be in a better place to help sort out the minor stuff. Conflict over who gets what in the midst of doctor visits and choosing an assisted living can deflect attention from the important issues and could give Mom or Dad the window of opportunity they need to refuse the move.
Our office often gets calls from concerned family members following the holidays. Assuming that the situation hasn’t already reached a crisis point, taking small steps can prevent future family discord and help foster a supportive atmosphere as our loved one’s age. Our goal is to become a part of your team to help sort out what steps are needed and how best to maintain your parents’ dignity and family harmony. Call 574.232.3538 to get started.
Disclaimer: The THK Legal Blog is for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice. In no case does the published material constitute an exhaustive legal study, and applicability to a particular situation depends upon an investigation of specific facts. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation.