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50+: Live Better, Longer

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Role Reversal: Caregiving for Aging Parents

When an aging parent needs caregiving, the children often need to take responsibility. But what happens when only one of many siblings steps up to the plate?

Caregiving for an Aging Parent: Taking Charge continued...

Open the lines of communication. As a family, with all of your siblings and surviving parents, talk about how you will care for Mom or Dad before the situation turns into a crisis, suggests Cutler.

"Anticipate that these are decisions and choices that are best made before a crisis happens," says Cutler. "Sit down with everyone together, and talk about what you want to do, whether it's a financial issue or geographical issue. The key is conversation rather than crisis management."

Then, when it is time for a parent to reach out to their children for help later in life, it's clear who is responsible for what, from a financial and support perspective, without creating a family conflict.

Pick an age. Have this conversation when your parent is still of a "functional" age, whether it's your mother's late 60s or early 70s -- meaning she still has her mental and physical health on her side.

"A good guideline is to talk about long-term care with a parent when issues like a health care proxy or living will come into play," says Hollis-Sawyer. "If these are topics a person needs to think about, then how their long-term care will be handled should also be on the table."

Support comes in many shapes. If one person is elected to be the primary caregiver for a parent, the siblings should think about how they can provide indirect support, whether it's by pitching in with paperwork, finance management, or in-person help.

"A family needs to think about how to help support the sibling in charge of a parent, either with help or compensation of some sort, to help defray the cost that they are incurring," says Steven Stern, PhD, a professor of economics at the University of Virginia, who specializes in aging and disability.

Understand the finances. "Talk to a financial planner about finances if you are caring for an aging parent on your own," says Cutler. "You may be able to take a parent as a dependent on your tax return, if you are paying for more than half of their well-being, such as rent, nursing home care, or food."

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