When it comes to planning your parents’ long-term care, it’s a good idea to start talking to them about it when the need for such assistance is still in the future.

If you wait until they’re actually in need of the long-term care, it’s going to be a lot more difficult. You’ll be stressed and they will, in all likelihood, be resistant to the whole concept. Approaching the subject with some time to plan and with a cool head is likely to lead to a more positive and productive experience. Beyond that, there are financial and legal issues that are better dealt with well in advance.

Even financially savvy people often overlook long-term care when planning for their financial future. Your parents may have saved well to take care of themselves throughout retirement, but long-term care needs can whittle away even the most robust retirement accounts. Whether it’s in-home assistance costs or nursing home fees, long-term care can cost tens of thousands of dollars a year.

Ready to begin planning? Here's where you should start:

1. The Financial Numbers. Start off by asking your parents about their financial situation. Ask if you can look over their financial documents with them to get a good idea of how their estate is set up. Consider having a joint meeting with a financial advisor who specializes in estate planning to make sure your parents are in the best possible financial condition. It’s important that you know of your parents' financial holdings and where all the relevant documents are kept should they become incapacitated for any reason.

2. Decision Making Responsibilities. Set up a durable power of attorney with an elder law attorney. A power of attorney authorizes you to handle your parents' financial accounts and other legal matters should the need arise. With a power of attorney, for example, you can access your parents’ bank accounts, trade their stocks and sell their home. A power of attorney can also give you the legal right to make medical decisions for your parents. It is also a good idea to talk to your parents about their health directives—including their wishes about medical intervention and life support—before the need arises.

3. Insurance Coverage. Talk to your parents about long-term care insurance. If your parents are still relatively young and healthy, they may still be able to purchase an affordable policy. Long-term care insurance covers the costs of both in-home and nursing home care when the insured become incapable of performing basic activities of daily living. Having a good long-term-care insurance policy can save you and your parents thousands of dollars and make caring for an elderly parent much more manageable.

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