The holiday season is a time for celebrating with friends, family, relatives and others close to us. That’s why I want to encourage you to think about and bring up planning for caregiving with aging parents this holiday.

I’m not proposing that after the holiday toast you start asking difficult estate-planning questions! But caregiving is an important conversation to have, a discussion that should unfold over time, hopefully well before the need emerges.

Odds are that about half of elderly individuals will need some type of long-term care services and support. (Long-term care expenses typically begin in the 80s.) Families provide most long-term care, yet many aren’t prepared for the responsibility.

For instance, just one in four families surveyed discussed how their parents will be financially provided for, or cared for, as they get older, according to Family & Retirement: The Elephant in the Room by Merrill Lynch in partnership with the consulting firm Age Wave. Focusing on those 50 years and over, about half of those surveyed don’t have a will. Only four in 10 have a written health care directive.

Thing is, many long-term care decisions take time to make. A good example is where to live. Most people would like to age at home (the jargon term is age-in-place). If that’s the goal, it pays to get rid of the mortgage. You don’t want to tap home equity, either, the financial foundation of the household safety net.

You will want to examine your home through the lens of aging. If the stairs become too much to navigate is there a full bathroom on the first floor? Are the doors wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair? Perhaps most important, investigate the long-term care services conveniently available — or not available — in your community. Among those critical community services are easy transportation options to meet with friends, shop for groceries and visit the doctor.

Aging-in-place may be a popular choice, but it isn’t always the best idea. Long-term care expenses often begin in the 80s, a time of life when social isolation is a growing concern, especially if mobility is limited. You don’t want age-in-place to become stuck-in-place. Some possible alternatives to discuss include a continuing care community, moving in with your children (perhaps in a renovated garage), cohousing, cooperative housing and home sharing.

Of course, there is much more financial information to share, such as savings and investments. Here’s the thing: Planning ahead doesn’t mean there won’t be some difficult times in the future. But planning makes it easier. Start talking — soon.


Chris Farrell is senior economics contributor, “Marketplace,” commentator, Minnesota Public Radio.