A major theme of this column is that managing money well over a lifetime shouldn't be complicated. All you need is a handful of good spending and savings habits.
For example, save every month for emergencies, opportunities and retirement. Put your savings strategy on autopilot. Borrow conservatively and cautiously. Credit cards shouldn't be used to spend more than you make.
That said, there is an aspect of personal finances that is inherently complicated and difficult: long-term care for aging parents. Specifically, I have been talking recently to a number of wonderful people about their experience in managing an elder's finances when mental faculties start deteriorating into dementia late in life.
What I learned from these conversations is that planning truly makes a difference. Estate planning isn't only about bequests and taxes. Estate planning is also arranging your finances so that if cognitive decline sets in your caregiver — a spouse, family member, relative, a longtime friend — can step in and maintain your quality of life. It's vital that older Americans establish durable power of attorney and lay out their advanced medical directives.
You will also want to familiarize yourself with long-term care options. For instance, where will you live during your elder years? In your own home? Move in with a son or daughter? Get an apartment at a continuing care community or assisted living center? You will want to investigate the option of long-term care insurance and learn what public services are available in your community. A good place to start is Minnesota's website and guide, "Own Your Future: Long-term Care Planning Guide."
Planning helps the people who love you and who will eventually care for you in some capacity. In addition, having a plan in place greatly lowers the odds that you will fall victim to a scam. The elderly can be vulnerable to financial abuse and fraud. A well-crafted plan that anticipates some form of cognitive decline is part of your financial safety net with age.
Clearly, conversation is critical. Aging parents need to talk over their estate plan with their family and relatives or whomever will end up caregiving for you if needed. The future caregivers need to learn as much as possible about the estate plan.
These conversations are often difficult. An advantage of starting the conversation early is that there is less pressure on everyone and more time to get comfortable with the topic and get the plan thought through and in place.
Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor at "Marketplace" on Minnesota Public Radio.