In normal times, many of us anticipate retirement, not with trepidation, but with expectation - a time for pursuing previously forsaken opportunities, a release from the cares and worries of raising families and those pesky work responsibilities.
The sensible ones among us actually do some forward planning for this time in the sun.
Most of this planning revolves around money and lifestyle and the ubiquitous questions – What will we do, where will we live and how long will the money last?
It's supposed to be all about you, isn't it?
After some 20 years of working with, and advising families, and elderly parents, I'm afraid I have to tell you something, it's not just about you.
Your retirement orbit cannot escape the gravitational pull from the needs and increasing demands of your ageing parents.
Regrettably few advisers, particularly financial advisers, ever ask you as part of your retirement planning, 'How can we plan for your aged care?'
They will almost never ask you the next question, 'How can we plan for your parents aged care?'
But that's not your problem, is it?
Deep down, we all actually think it is.
If pressed, I suspect most retirees would say that their biggest, albeit repressed, concern in their retirement is the fate of their ageing parents, particularly when those parents start to suffer the ravages of ageing and become frail and dependant.
But we suppress any overt discussion about it. It's not a catchy topic at the family BBQ and your parents will want to avoid it too.
This is where my experience comes in.
Put simply, the failure of families to confront this, in advance, will, and does, lead to family dispute, dysfunction and ultimate implosion of families.
Trust me, I'm a lawyer and have seen it too many times.
I felt I had to share those experiences of all those family failures I have been involved in.
There was a constant message coming from my work – avoidance and laziness in retirement are recipes for a nightmare - not really what you want in this much yearned for period of your life.
My new book, Avoiding the Ageing Parent Trap is a comprehensive mining of all my experiences on how families do so badly in addressing these later life events, punctuated by real life stories just to make the point.
But it also offers up solutions and advice on how to avoid these destructive consequences of not facing up to reality.
It is not written by a lawyer for lawyers.
It is written for you, both from a personal perspective and my ageing parents, and a professional perspective, as a lawyer practising in Elder Law.
It examines all the complex dynamics, the 'balls in the air', that come into play for you when your ageing parents come a-calling, including:
- What could possibly go wrong? – You'd be surprised or perhaps you won't be
- Family planning – not the one we used to engage in but another form - 'aged parent planning'
- The significance and impact of family relationships, the changing of your parents' personalities as they grow older and the 'dynamite' issue of your relationship with your brothers and sisters
- The questions you will need to answer about how, and where your parents are going to live and when one parent becomes single again
- The underlying and insidious effect of money – what does it cost to be an ageing parent and who is going to pay
- Ensuring your parents have the basic legal protective devices in place such as a Will and Enduring Power of Attorney
- How not to feel embarrassed about raising the issue with your parents and siblings without being seen as a gold digger
- How to respond when your mum or dad tell you, "I'll let you know when I need any help".
The overriding thrust of the book is to give you a picture of your family's future and to forearm and forewarn you about it.
To help you avoid the crisis mentality that befalls a family when mum or dad has had a fall – when families turn into frantic families, and ultimately, failing families.
Here are 10 tips to help:
- When you parents are starting to show signs that they may need help in everyday living, get cracking on loading up on information and education to address it;
- Be courageous and open a discussion with your parents (and don't forget your parents-in-law);
- Suspend your nascent enmities for some of your siblings and open up a conversation about it with them – more courage required and better to work together than apart;;
- Get your parents to get advice – facilitate it and ignore the implication that you are just trying to feather your own nest;
- Don't sit back and wait for someone else to be pro-active – become the family mover and shaker;
- If it gets tough and disagreement erupts think about engaging a professional like a family mediator rather than shouting "I'll see you in court!";
- Involve your parents in the ongoing process, and it is ongoing and be inclusive with them, not patronising;
- Ensure they have in place crucial decision making documents like an Enduring Power of Attorney and Advance Health Directive and even a Will;
- Determine how far, if at all, you are prepared to go to assist your parents financially in meeting their accommodation needs and, if you are, get advice on it and document it; and
- Share the process with your adult children – they'll be where you are one day.
My book may make you feel uncomfortable.
Some of you reading the stories will exclaim, "That's just like my family!"
Others may say this is best advice I have ever read and now I'm determined to do something, as opposed to waiting for something to happen.
Remember as well, one day your children will be where you are now.
You will be an ageing parent and they will be the recent retirees. After you've read it, you might want to pass it on to them for future reference.
About the author
Brian Herd is a passionate lawyer, working in the frontier of elder law, or law relating to older people and their families, involving the new dynamic emerging in families – disputes and dysfunction brought on by ageing parents.
He's the author of new book Avoiding the Ageing Parent Trap, published by Simon & Schuster