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Elder care planning: Help your clients have the talk

FEB. 04, 2019

People often ask what keeps me up at night. As leader of Nationwide Financial, I spend a lot of time thinking about how millions of Americans are under-prepared for retirement — especially its final stages.

According to a poll by the Nationwide Retirement Institute*, only about 27 percent of Americans are confident in their plans to pay for long-term care (LTC) expenses.

The good news: there are tools and resources advisors can use to take some of the guess-work out of retirement planning.

I know this first-hand, as my parents recently decided to move into an assisted-living facility. It was because of their careful planning that things went smoothly for our family.

Hopefully, you feel confident in your ability to help clients understand the financial services solutions available to address this challenge, but anyone who has been through this with their own family will tell you: There’s more to it than that.

Advisor opportunity: help clients have “the talk”

This transition can be an emotional experience for retirees and their families. It often requires significant sacrifice on the part of loved ones, which your clients may not realize. That’s why there is a huge opportunity for you to strengthen relationships with your clients by offering advice that goes beyond financial services.

Hopefully you saw my last post on elder care planning, in which I discuss an important first step advisors should take when helping clients with the elder care planning process: Gathering the information they need to be ready as a family.

Here, I highlight another opportunity for advisors to offer added value to clients: Helping them have “the talk.” That’s where a family comes together to make sure everyone’s on the same page about what happens when aging loved ones reach the final stages of life.

Here’s how to do it

These conversations can be difficult and sometimes painful — but they’re essential to making sure that everyone’s prepared.

If your clients’ families are anything like mine, even approaching such a conversation with aging loved ones, siblings, in-laws and other family members may feel overwhelming. My family went through plenty of tissues when we had the talk.

Here are a few suggestions to help your clients break the ice:

  1. Choose the right location: It may be helpful to find a neutral meeting place so there’s no sense of “home court advantage” that may make family members feel disadvantaged. Have the talk in a quiet, private location like the parent’s home (not the home of someone else in the family).
  2. Keep it positive: Clients should try their best to enter all conversations with a positive approach, keeping in mind this is their parent or loved one’s plan, not their own. The purpose of these discussions is to help them develop the best plan possible for themselves and the family — not take over the decision-making process.
  3. Determine who’s in charge: One goal of the discussion is to decide who’s in charge when the time comes for parents to hand over responsibilities. Some families opt to share these responsibilities, while others designate one or two family members. No matter what decisions are made, it’s important everyone is clear about who’s doing what.
  4. Consider the pros and cons of family care: Many families start with a goal of handling their loved ones’ care themselves — often because an aging parent wants to stay at home as long as possible and wants their family to take care of them. According to a survey by the Nationwide Retirement Institute*, a whopping 71 percent of older Americans would prefer to receive LTC in their own homes.

As families look at options, they will want to consider decisions based on their ability (or inability) to devote adequate time and patience to care for their loved one. As nice as family care may seem, it may not be practical — or even possible. Professional help may be needed to provide some or all the care necessary for family members to achieve balance and peace of mind.

Asking the right questions

These are questions your clients’ families should consider:

  • Do you have the physical ability and training to give quality care to your loved one?
  • Have you thought about how much you can afford for care should it be needed?
  • Do you have any idea how much LTC services cost in the area you live?
  • How could paying for LTC affect the financial security of your loved one or the family as a whole?
  • How long can your loved one’s assets last if they are saddled with long-term care expenses?
  • Are you aware health insurance doesn’t cover LTC expenses?
  • Are you aware Medicare covers only skilled care up to 100 days under limited circumstances and with significant co-pays after day 20?
  • Are you aware Medicaid is designed for people who have little income or countable assets, and if you do qualify, your care choices are limited?

Here are questions for parents who may assume their children will provide their care:

  • Are your children aware of your intentions?
  • Do you have a child that can financially afford to quit work or substantially cut work hours — as well as juggle care-giving duties with their own family responsibilities?

  • Where do your children live? How do you feel about leaving the community and friends you are accustomed to in order to move and have your child care for you?

Help your clients understand that, by answering these questions now, they can help safeguard the family from some common pitfalls, and head off tough conversations at a time when they will want to be focused on making their loved one comfortable. Having a plan in place, while not failsafe, may keep possible financial disagreements, resentment and agonizing guilt at bay.

And remember: Even the most well-thought-out plans don’t always play out in the end. Families hoping to avoid or delay LTC are encouraged to consider coming up with a back-up plan. That’s where you step in to help them understand some of the financial planning solutions that may meet their needs.


  • *

    Survey conducted online by The Harris Poll on behalf of the Nationwide Retirement Institute between Sept. 13 and 27, 2017 among 1,214 U.S. adults age 50 or older and 508 U.S. adults age 50 or older who are caregivers.