When Alice began caring for her mother, her older brother protested. “It will be too much for you,” Ben said. “She should just go to a nursing home.”
Alice stood her ground, moving her mom into her home with her three children and her husband. She managed the best she could with home health aides. The juggle between meeting her mom’s needs, her kids’ needs and what her marriage needed was tough. But nothing compared to the phone calls she received from Ben about the budget. “I noticed a few items on Mom’s account I want to ask you about,” he would say. He went through the budget for care, and how much Alice spent on care, with the finest of fine-tooth combs. It made Alice nuts.
“I hate my mother’s budget,” she said. “I just hate it!”
Caring for an aging relative often involves managing the every-day personal care. It’s also about managing a parent’s financial situation so he or she has the money to pay for care. And, when other family members, such as siblings, get involved in the budget, the numbers may only add up at the cost of tempers flying.
How do you keep everyone on the same page? A few suggestions:
1. Understand your comfort level. Managing money isn’t for everyone and if it makes your palms sweat during your sleepless nights, look to outsource the responsibility, including to another family member. Or, consider overseeing the budgeting but hiring out other tasks, like bill-paying. According to the American Association of Daily Money Managers, a daily money manager provides financial/bookkeeping services. You can find a money manager at the organization’s website.
2. If you’ll manage the care budget, create a system that manages money in and money out. You’ll want to keep track of all expenses related to caregiving, such as hired help, medications, supplies, ancillaries. You’ll also want to track your parent’s income, such as from social security, pensions and investments. Use software such as Quicken or websites like Mint.com to create a system that easy to use and simple to explain.
3. Consider involving third-party professionals, such as an accountant or financial planner, who can ensure your system works. You can discuss your goals for the budget, the expenses in the budget and how you manage bill-paying. You can talk about your worries and stresses, as well, which can take the pressure off you. The third-party professional also can be involved during any family meetings about budget.
4. Be sure to involve your parent, as appropriate, in all discussions. The presence of your parent will remind family members of the goal: Ensuring your mom or dad has the care and money for care that’s needed. Smart Money offers suggestions on how to talk with a parent who has Alzheimer’s about their finances here.
5. Determine a regular communication system. The temptation may be to simply cut off discussions about the budget, particularly if meetings can be contentious. Money can make people crazy; not knowing about a parent’s financial situation can siblings bonkers. Determine how often you’ll communicate and who will take the lead on sharing information. If you use third-party professionals, then perhaps they send regular updates. If you’ll take the lead, then determine what’s appropriate in terms of frequent check-ins. Perhaps you send monthly emails with an update about care and the budget. Perhaps you and your siblings schedule a quarterly conference call to discuss care and budget. Ongoing updates means no one is surprised and everyone understands how money is spent.
Finally, keep a folder with notes and documents that will help you make decisions quickly when the time arrives, suggests Genworth Financial in its Tips for Caregivers article. Access to important information, including the budget, will help minimize some of the stress that accompanies caregiving.