Caring for a relative, like an aging parent, is a big job. An estimated 43.5 million adults in the U.S. (about 60% of them women) act as caregivers to a loved one every year, according to a 2015 study from the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. Here are some tips to best support your loved one:
Assess Your Loved One’s Finances
Learning how much money your loved one has, what is available, where the money is coming from and how it is spent is a crucial first step to ensuring your loved one will be cared for. Start by examining their important documents and records. Any income from social security, retirement, disability benefits or pensions, along with financial assets such as cash, bank accounts, money market funds, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and IRAs should be determined. You’ll also need to find out what legal documents – such a power of attorney, wills, trusts – have already been drafted or need to be drafted.
Your loved one’s real estate, along with assets such as vehicles, inheritance, collectibles, jewelry and other valuables should be noted. If your loved one has a life insurance policy, make sure you find out what their policy entails.
Once you’ve researched all the money, property and assets, write out a detailed record that includes account numbers, bank and organization names, numbers, address and telephone numbers, property addresses, deeds, a form of ownership, and estimates of current value for items.
Budget for Ongoing Expenses
It’s a good idea to make a list of the day-to-day expenses your loved one has, such as rent, mortgage, insurance, car payments, utilities, food, credit card debt and other spending. Knowing these expenses will help you make a plan to pay the bills. Using that list, work with your loved one to set up a budget. Allowing them to participate makes the process transparent and gives them an opportunity to participate in how their finances are used. If there is leftover money you can discuss how to use it to pay down any debt, put it in a reserve fund, or save it for something special.
Use Google calendar, a planner or a notebook to keep track of tasks and important dates, like doctor visits, home maintenance, due dates for bills, errands and giving your loved ones’ medication. You can set email or text alerts so you don’t miss any important appointments or tasks. Keep phone numbers for doctors, pharmacists, insurance companies and other crucial contacts in your planner, on your phone and on the fridge, where you can access them quickly and easily. Caring for your loved ones is hard work, but you can make it easier by staying organized.
Set Up an Emergency Fund
An emergency fund will help your loved ones if they have accidents or illnesses, require special equipment, or have other new expenses. Put away enough money to cover expenses for six months.
Take Time to Care for Yourself
If you are physically, mentally or emotionally stressed, you will have trouble helping the person you’re responsible for. If you’re healthy, you’ll have more energy, less stress and you’ll be better prepared to take care of your loved one. Take a break every once in a while, even if it’s just 20 minutes to take a walk. Look out for signs of anxiety or depression – irritability, a lack of interest in things you used to enjoy or trouble sleeping. If you are feeling down stressed out, consider talking to a doctor about your symptoms.
Hire Help if You Need it
Sometimes you just can’t do it all yourself. It’s okay to admit that. Ask your relatives for help if they are available. Friends or community members may also be able to give you a hand as well. You may also consider hiring an in-home aide from an agency to assist with day-to-day tasks like cooking, cleaning, laundry, shopping and more. You can find professional help by contacting a home care agency near your loved one. Ask your doctor for suggestions, or talk to friends, family or community members who have used an agency. Check for agency reviews from trusted online sources. Look for agencies that are licensed in your state, and have licensed and insured workers. When you contact an agency, ask them to send you a list of references and a packet of information about their services and fees that you can review.