Business managers would never chart a course of action for the future without gathering all of the necessary information, analyzing the pros and cons of different approaches, and meeting with the main people who have a stake in the outcome. Yet many families approach eldercare issues with a similar lack of foresight.
If there is an aging member of your family who soon may need help at home or perhaps will move into an eldercare facility of some kind, it's essential for everyone to talk about what's ahead. Consider trying to call the appropriate relatives together for a family meeting—and be prepared to answer some of these questions:
Can you meet? Frequently, inertia will take over or some family members won't see the need for a family discussion. It's difficult to find the time with our busy schedules and other commitments. What's more, many families today are dispersed around the country and beyond. Nevertheless, it's important to bring everyone together to work out a plan.
Why should you meet? Whether or not specific problems need to be addressed immediately, a meeting gives family members a chance to share information and air their concerns. One or more siblings may feel that too much of the caretaking is falling to them, while others may express their intention to do more. Encourage family members to get such feelings out on the table. Keep in mind that there is no right or wrong approach. The needs of each family and the best solutions for everyone will vary.
Who should you invite? This depends on the size of your family, who takes an active family role, and other factors. Certainly, the children of an elderly parent should be involved, and perhaps the grandchildren, too, if they're old enough to be meaningful participants. Depending on the situation, close family friends and professional advisers also might be included. There could be value to bringing in a third-party caretaker, perhaps a nursing aide or someone else paid to help the parent, who might contribute insight to the discussion. Finally, consider whether or not to include the loved one whose future is being discussed.
What should you cover? The older family member's health care may be at the top of the agenda. You may decide to move the person to a nursing or assisted living facility or to upgrade accommodations at a current location. Another option is to keep the person at home and use live-in care. It's also important to determine whether the parent has a living will or other health care directives that express what kind of care he or she wants to receive. Finances also will be an important part of the equation. Establishing a durable power of attorney for a designated person to handle financial matters could be helpful, and you might decide that one or more trusts could help protect family assets. Federal and state rules covering such documents are complex, so be sure to consult with professionals experienced in this area of the law.
How should you conduct the meeting? Just as for a business meeting, an agenda that you develop beforehand could help keep the discussion on track. One of you may want to take the lead in creating an agenda and distributing it by email to everyone who will be there, then revising it to include other family members' concerns.
What should you do next? Trying to maintain good communication with everyone is very important, and even in families that have not always been harmonious, this is one time when everyone needs to try to come together for the benefit of the loved one. Of course, conflicting viewpoints are likely to be expressed at the meeting, so you all will need to be prepared to compromise. Have someone take detailed notes and circulate them to everyone, and then ask everyone to agree to honor the agreements you've reached.
You all will have to remain flexible in case the situation changes. Develop a "plan B" if, for example, you choose a particular facility that doesn't work out or the elderly person's condition suddenly worsens. Finally, don't expect miracle solutions, but do involve your financial and other advisers in this crucial effort to help this family member.