How to rescue your retirement from the ageing parent trap

Feb 20, 2021
The needs of ageing parents is a crucial topic that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later. Source: Getty

In normal times, many of us anticipate retirement with positive expectations, viewing it as a release from the cares and worries of raising families and those pesky work responsibilities, and a time for pursuing previously forsaken opportunities.

The sensible ones among us do some forward planning for this time in the sun. Most of this planning revolves around money and lifestyle and the ubiquitous questions: what will we do, where will we live and how long will the money last? After all, it’s supposed to be all about you, isn’t it?

After some 20 years of advising families and elderly parents on legal matters, I’m afraid I have some news: it’s not just about you. Your retirement orbit cannot escape the gravitational pull of the increasing needs and demands of your ageing parents. Regrettably few advisers, particularly financial advisers, ever ask you as part of your retirement planning, ‘how can we plan for your aged care?’ And they will almost never ask you the next question, ‘how can we plan for your parents’ aged care?’

But that’s not your problem, is it?

Deep down, we all think it is. If pressed, I suspect most retirees would say that their biggest – albeit repressed – concern in their retirement is the fate of their ageing parents, particularly when those parents start to suffer the ravages of ageing and become frail and dependant. But we suppress any overt discussion about it. It’s not a catchy topic at the family barbecue and your parents will no doubt want to avoid it too.

However, the failure of families to confront this reality in advance will and does lead to family disputes, dysfunction and the ultimate implosion of many families. Trust me, I’m a lawyer and have seen it happen too many times. I felt a need to share the experiences of all those family failures I have been involved in, to help others avoid the same fate.

My new book, Avoiding the Ageing Parent Trap, is a comprehensive mining of all my experiences on how families do so badly in addressing these later life events, punctuated by real-life stories to make the point. It also offers up solutions and advice on how to avoid the destructive consequences of not facing up to reality. It is not written by a lawyer for lawyers; it is written for you. It examines all the complex dynamics – the balls in the air – that come into play for you, including:

  • What could possibly go wrong? You’d be surprised!
  • Family planning – not the one we used to engage in but another form: aged parent planning.
  • The significance and impact of family relationships, the changing of your parents’ personalities as they grow older and the issue of your relationship with any brothers and/or sisters you may have.
  • The questions you will need to answer about how and where your parents are going to live, especially when one parent becomes single again.
  • The underlying effect of money: what does it cost to be an ageing parent and who is going to pay.
  • Ensuring your parents have the basic legal protective devices in place, such as a will and enduring power of attorney.
  • How not to feel embarrassed about raising the issue with your parents and siblings without being seen as a gold digger.

The overriding thrust of my book is to forewarn and forearm you in regards to your family’s future. It’s to help you avoid the crisis mentality that befalls a family when mum or dad has a fall or stroke etc, which is when families turn frantic.

Here are 10 tips to help:

1. When your parents start to show signs they may need help in everyday living, get cracking on loading up on information and education to address it.
2. Be courageous and open a discussion with your parents (and don’t forget your parents-in-law).
3. Suspend any enmities you may have with your siblings and open up a conversation about it with them – it’s better to work together than apart.
4. Get your parents to get advice, facilitate it and ignore the implication that you are just trying to feather your own nest.
5. Don’t sit back and wait for someone else to be pro-active, become the family mover and shaker.
6. If it gets tough and disagreement erupts, think about engaging a professional – such as a family mediator – rather than shouting ‘I’ll see you in court!’
7. Involve your parents in the ongoing process, and be inclusive with them – not patronising.
8. Ensure they have in place crucial decision-making documents, such as an enduring power of attorney, advance health directive and even a will.
9. Determine how far, if at all, you are prepared to go to assist your parents financially in meeting their accommodation needs and, if you are, get advice on it and document it; and
10. Share the process (and the book!) with your adult children – after all, they’ll be where you are one day.

Some of you reading the stories will exclaim, “That’s just like my family!”. Many will feel uncomfortable. And others will say this is great advice and now I’m determined to do something, as opposed to waiting for something to happen.

To give you a taste, you can read an extract of ‘Avoiding the Ageing Parent Trap’ by clicking here. For those wanting to pre-order, you can go to Booktopia or Dymocks or find the e-book edition on Amazon.

Do the ageing parent issues raised here ring true for you? What's your family's experience been like?

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