Opening up the conversation about the costs of caregiving

Elizz is pleased to partner with RBC Ventures on this article, and we jointly encourage our family caregiver readers to download RBC Ventures newly launched FREE care coordination app, CareEasy 

Many adult daughters and sons with aging parents help their parents financially. And it’s not really being talked about in the family-with parents, or between siblings. In fact, the subject tends to be avoided and this avoidance comes at a cost (pun intended). It’s time to move from avoidance to transparency. Conversations about aging, money and the costs of caregiving can be hard to have; however challenging, they are necessary. It’s worthwhile to move through any discomfort. Draw on the tips we provide below to guide conversations between siblings and families about the delicate subject of money and finances.

The cost of caring

Many adult daughters and sons with parents 65 years and older have care-related expenses, often referred to as out-of-pocket expenses. This includes paying for things like parking fees, prescription fees, and personal care workers paid for by adult children. To put this into perspective, in Canada, the government covers only 70 percent of healthcare costs.  The other 30 percent is covered by the older adults and their caregivers, usually adult children. 

Caregivers spend an average of $3,300 a year on these expenses.  When parents have limited retirement savings, caregivers can expect to spend even more.

Many people do not have that kind of disposable income each month, and even go into debt to cover these costs. Ideally, family siblings share these costs. But it’s hard to budget for out-of-pocket expenses, and plan for future expenses, let alone share in absorbing these expenses, if the issue isn’t talked about in the family.

Over the next 10 years, these expenses are expected to mushroom, as there will be an increased demand for services as the aging population increases. 

What makes it hard to talk about money and finances?

What makes it hard to have an open and honest conversation revolves around 3 broad issues: 

  1. Sibling relationships and family dynamics (past and present), which are usually emotionally laden;
  2. The subject of money is a touchy, sensitive and often private issue for many;  
  3. Broader context of parent’s aging, and eventual decline and death stirs up intense emotions. 

Here’s the thing. These 3 factors or issues are at play whether out in the open or not, and whether acknowledged or not.  It sure makes it understandable why the subject is avoided!  It is never just a conversation about money or financial costs, which makes it understandable why the subject is avoided! 

 Drawing on these 3 broad issues, there is much more being played out:  

  • Judgements about how parents handle money – past and present and future (wills and inheritance)
  • Different perceptions about parents’ needs (financial, emotional and physical)
  • Caregiving is rarely shared equally by each sibling (there is usually one primary caregiver)
  • Simmering or full blown resentments (google sibling rivalry and there are over 20 million results!)
  • Perceptions of parental favouritism (money spent, affection and attention). 
  • Income and wealth differences between siblings (with or without competitiveness)
  • Varying opinions about wish and need to help/support parents financially
  • Different degrees of closeness to parents (with or without resentments)
  • Range of comfort levels related to sickness, death and dying

Why bring the subject of money and costs up?

While there is much that makes these conversations hard (one conversation is rarely sufficient), there are potential enormous benefits and rewards that can come to all involved.  You can provide support to one another and look back with pride that you worked together as a team coming together for a common purpose.

Also, it is literally impossible to plan without transparency. And guaranteed, both the adult kids’ respective financial situation and the aging parent’s finances, will play a part in future decisions.

How to approach the conversation

  • Courage
  • Patience
  • Sensitivity 

If you can approach the conversation with courage, patience and sensitivity, you are creating the conditions for a meeting that unites siblings in their care for parents and may prevent tension and conflicts.  

10 Tips to guide sibling conversations

  1. The sooner, the better. The biggest mistake adult daughters and sons make is thinking there is time.   Start the conversation early, ideally before a crisis. When we are stressed and under pressure, most of us aren’t our best selves.
  2. Set a family meeting, or at least, a siblings meeting to start, and have an agenda. Suggested agendas: how to make life easier for aging parents; or keep parent/s as safe, healthy, independent as possible. Too often care issues are a series of on-on-one discussions, which is a breeding ground for different perceptions, feeling left out, and a whole range of hard feelings. A family meeting prevents this problem. With the use of technology, this meeting can be a virtual one. 
  3. Set out ‘facts’ – what is known-ideally from experts, from parents themselves-so that everyone has the potential to start from the same page. Level the playing field in terms of information about both costs and parents’ needs. Have written down what the current tasks and costs are, and if possible, potential or known future costs. Establish common ground of information (parents sometimes share partially and differently with sibs)
  4. Schedule enough time that you and others don’t feel rushed. While time is often a precious commodity, if this conversation is in too tight a time frame, everyone can feel rushed and when rushed, we are more impatient and less likely to listen to one another.  
  5. Expect it to be emotional –and siblings likely express emotion differently. You can have a ‘rational’ goal, but just know it is loaded. Watching our parents age and eventually die is often the hardest things we face in life.
  6. Explore/examine your own role in sibling dynamics –notice your own emotional reactions and be conscious about them (reference Dr. Francine Russo). Unchecked or unnoticed feelings and reactions like guilt. anger, righteousness will hijack working together well. Self- awareness and emotional regulation will serve you well.
  7. Don’t make people wrong – we all have reasons for different perceptions.
  8. Involve parents at 1st opportunity. The age of 60 has been suggested, before they likely need help. There are key financial questions to ask your parents. Having these discussions about money and finance enables you to plan ahead. It can also help avoid nasty surprises and possible emergencies down the road. Said otherwise, what you don’t know, can hurt you! At the same time, be mindful that there may be embarrassment for your parents about asking for and accepting financial help. Approach the subject with respect and sensitivity. 
  9. If you and your siblings are having trouble coming together for your parent/s, you may want to consider investing in mediation or family therapy. Having a facilitator or mediator is worth it if the family is at risk of being torn apart. And talking about and dealing with each one of these issues is challenging, from money, to parents, illness, aging, dying and death. Could a conversation be more loaded?
  10. Have a system to track ongoing care tasks and expenses. This conversation will be an ongoing one, and not a one-off one. RBC Ventures has developed a great app, CareEasy that tracks both tasks and costs/expenses and it even has a family notes section, which I love because it is an implicit reminder why siblings are helping out in the first place! 

Learn more about the FREE CareEasy app  or download the app in the App Store or Google Play store.

 

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  • DD
    Fri Mar 26 2021, 21:55
    I will check out the app. Thanks .