How to Take Care of Your Aging Parents: 5 Simple Steps to Getting Started

By: Kathryn Selby

As they say, the only two things that are certain in life are Death & Taxes. So, I am going to share my experience around the first, death. Yes, I realize it is morbid but it will happen, and trust me, in situations like these, it is best to be paperwork ready because emotionally, you will never be.

A little back story on my life and how I got to learn so much about Estate Planning, Financial Management & Caring for an aging parent:

I am an only child, I have always been slightly paranoid about everything, I have a knack for always finishing things and wrapping them up in a “nice little bow,” and I love checking off my to-do’s.  However, it is the combination of these character traits that have gotten me through some pretty “grown up” stuff early on in life!

 (Meme:  MemeSuper.com )

(Meme: MemeSuper.com )

My mom passed away when I was in my teens, leaving just my dad and I. My dad was your typical numbers nerd and I was a shopper with no sense of numbers. I never got higher than a C in any math class, I swear. I’m telling you this to give you hope, even if you are not a numbers girl, you too can help your parents start talking about the tough numbers in life: finances, long term care, wills, etc.

My dad got sick with Parkinson’s and dementia early on in his life and I saw his day-to-day life rapidly change. He was no longer himself and could not do the things he needed to do such as paying credit card bills or remembering to take his medications. Hopefully your situation will not resemble mine, but nonetheless you should understand what will need to be done when your aging parent is no longer able to care for him/herself. So many things can be done ahead of time.

When the Parkinson’s started progressing I worked with him on a small scale. No adult likes to have their freedom taken away at once as this can be very detrimental. It took all my patience (and I did not have it at times) to not take control of everything and wrap it up in a “neat little bow” and just be done with it.


The first 4 are documents you should take care of before your parent becomes ill or unable to care for themselves, these will be very helpful and make the process much easier.

  1. Power of Attorney, the authority to act for another person in specified or all legal or financial matters. Make sure you (or whomever they feel best) get Power of Attorney for your parents. This means you can pay bills, change account information etc. Also make sure you get several notarized copies of the Power of Attorney because many people will need the original and you don’t get that back. One thing to note is that most banks require a specific bank power of attorney form on file separate of the one you will do with a lawyer.

  2. Health Care Proxy, a document (legal instrument) with which a patient (primary individual) appoints an agent to legally make healthcare decisions on behalf of the patient, when he or she is incapable of making and executing the health care decisions stipulated in the proxy. This allows you to talk to doctors, understand care requirements and this becomes more and more important when taking care of an aging parent.

  3. The Will, a legal document containing instructions as to what should be done with one’s money and property after one’s death. This is straight forward but make sure it is updated and stored in a very secure spot, safe deposit or in a secure location at the home.

  4. The Living Will, a written statement detailing a person’s desires regarding their medical treatment in circumstances in which they are no longer able to express informed consent, especially an advance directive. This is the “who pulls the plug” document and in my case, I knew that I was not emotionally capable of doing this, so we appointed my aunt. Know who you can and can’t call on in times of distress or difficult decisions.

  5. A Plan of Action, Start to talk to your parents about what will happen as they age, retire or get ill.  Do they want to go to a nursing home or do they want to have home health care? Do they have insurance that will cover these? What will be the determining factor to stop driving or stop living alone. I caution that you should not bombard them with all of these questions at once. However, when they are still vital and energetic, that is the time to start these conversations. This is not an easy conversation but knowing what they want will put you and them at ease and make the transition smoother for everyone. 


(Photo: Mark Bowden)

LONG Story short…Talk to your parents. Death totally sucks, but it happens and trust me it can be hard now (but you can still ask your parents for help) OR it can be really hard later and you can be doing it all alone.

I am not an attorney, a tax consultant or a financial planner. I am an Art History major who works in Sales with some heartfelt advice from my hefty life experience that I’m hoping can help you become more equipped for the inevitable!

Know that everyone goes through this at some point, so you are never alone and you can always ask for help from your lawyers, accountants, family and friends.



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