© Copyright 2012 by Robert Moskowitz
My father died last year, and now my mother is really beginning to lose control of her life. My wife and I feel we need to begin taking care of her, but it’s difficult because she lives several hundred miles away. What should we do?
Signed, Distant But Devoted
Dear Distant But Devoted:
Although your mother may need a combination of social, medical, and physical help to get her life back in order, the first order of business is probably financial, since this is often a basis for obtaining all the others. In today’s complex financial system, an aging parent can easily mismanage a nest egg and endanger her future security. With a solid financial plan in place, however, you’ll be better able to provide for all her needs, perhaps even hire a local case manager to keep an eye on her and make sure she’s getting all the help and support she may require.
Even if you feel she has enough money, it’s a good idea to talk with her about finances immediately. Try to get her financial situation squared away now, before problems crop up. This way, assets will be properly invested and financial mechanisms like Durable Power of Attorney will already be in place to provide significant help whenever they’re needed – despite the distance between you.
One of the worst surprises for a parent on a fixed income is when expenses suddenly skyrocket. For example, a sudden illness may require hospitalization and round‑the‑clock nursing. So it’s important for your mother to budget her expenses, and to build up a cash reserve for an emergency.
The tough financial questions begin with: Where should your Mom keep her money? What insurance and other services should she purchase? How much can she afford to pay for living expenses without depleting her financial reserves? While you can safely focus on capital growth at your age, it’s more prudent to focus your aging mother’s investments on income and capital preservation.
A basic investment rule to observe for your mother is: Do not take chances with more than five percent of the total nest egg. The reason is simple: If you lose too much in a sour investment, your mother’s other investments simply won’t have enough time to grow and replace it. Also, a significant loss of capital can immediately reduce your mother’s income and force cutbacks in her lifestyle.
Depending on your mother’s financial situation, she may need advice on choosing the best financial strategies and tactics, and may require help in putting those choices into effect.
If your Mom seeks advice from independent retirement planners, or from experts who work for unions, banks, investment houses, or accounting firms, urge her to be cautious. Many financial planners earn commissions based on the annuities, bonds, mutual funds and other investment products their clients purchase. The most reliable information comes from experienced advisors with no stake in how your mother actually invests.
My mother and father are doing all right, so far. They live well and enjoy each other and their daily activities. I visit them about once a week and telephone once or twice more. The problem is that every time I leave or hang up, I feel terrible guilty for not helping them more than I do. How can I cope with this guilt.
Signed, Guilty Party
Guilt has been so maligned so often that we forget guilt is both natural and normal. Guilty feelings often signal that you are doing something wrong. The biggest problem is that we sometimes feel guilty without good reason.
In your case, you seem to be doing everything right. You’re in steady contact, you’re available, and you’re willing to help. Your aging parents don’t seem to need or want any more help than you’re giving, and – as things now stand – you’d be wrong to force your help on them. So resign yourself to feeling a certain amount of guilt. Make plans to enjoy yourself between bouts of guilt. You deserve it. And take my word for it: occasional guilt is far better than having to care for sickly, needy parents!
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To help your aging parents maintain their quality of life, think in terms of becoming like flowing water, which over time can create beautiful formations out of the toughest rocks.
© Copyright 2011 by Robert Moskowitz
Robert Moskowitz is the author of “Parenting Your Aging Parents, How To Protect Their Quality of Life — And Yours!” This 300 page hardcover book has been widely acclaimed as the classic work in the field since 1991. It is available at bookstores, or directly from Key Publications. The Web site is: “http://www.KeyPubs.com/pyapbook.html“. The cost is $21.95 plus $6.95 shipping and handling. If you wish, you can ask Robert Moskowitz your own question for this column by emailing him at: KeyPubs@KeyPubs.com.