On the surface, estate and long-term care planning may seem to be governed by financial factors. Money definitely plays a part, but relationships matter more. As we age, some combination of family, close friends, former co-workers, neighbors, fraternal or religious organizations and caregivers form the core of our support system. How we manage these relationships will determine the strength and engagement of this support system.
A spouse or significant other is usually in the best position to care for you as you age. Not every spouse is cut out to be a caregiver, but even emotional support is invaluable. Choosing a person to spend your life with anticipates a time down the road where more is asked of that person than planning a vacation, walking the dog or installing a bike rack. If your person is in good health and can handle caregiving duties, all the better. If poor health is a common trait in the household then you may have to look elsewhere for help.
Children like to pretend that they do not need their parents. Parents know that is ridiculous. Every facet of living has a cost and a responsibility that requires the kind of work that a child is unprepared to undertake. Aging parents perform similar acts of pretending. Not sharing important financial information or informing adult children of estate planning decisions is a common practice which the law protects. When the emergency comes and an aging parent is stricken, the adult children usually have to jump in with both feet and figure things out on the fly. Poorly maintained relationships will result in limited availability and reduced motivation at the exact moment heightened awareness is required.
Evolving a parent-child relationship can be difficult, but relying on your siblings or peer group is very risky. First, your siblings or peers are usually a similar age to you – with all of the same aging and illness issues. How can they provide support when they need support themselves? Second, siblings and peers have their own nuclear families to care for and help. Their priorities will lie closer to home. A strained parent-child relationship may stem from many factors, but repairing it usually begins with communicating as one adult talking to another, not a parent scolding a willful child. Forgiving 40 years of behavior is not the goal. A parent must understand that aging alone is not an easy path. For the adult child, helping a parent that needs assistance and maintaining a positive family structure will ensure both family harmony and financial protection.
When a spouse or adult child is not available to provide comfort or support, other options must be utilized. Sometimes, younger close family friends or neighbors can be major sources of companionship and caring. Nurturing non-family relationships becomes vitally important if children live distantly or there are no children. Public service, fraternal and religious organizations often cement strong bonds within its members. When one member runs into difficulties, other members come together to ease their burdens.
Sometimes aging alone is a result of bad luck or tragedy. In those cases, building strong relationships within a community is a necessity. For many others, aging alone is a result of missed opportunities and communication breakdowns. A lot of mistakes cannot be fixed, but one good conversation followed by another may be the key to preserving a family’s integrity.