When Canadians Are Caring for Their Elderly Parents
The Dawning Realization
Siblings Jane and Mike are facing an unwelcome disruption to their routine lives in the form of their elderly parents facing health challenges and financial uncertainties.
The emotional impact of this revelation was profound. The equilibrium of their daily lives was upset as they grappled with the realization that the competence and independence they had always seen in their parents was rapidly fading. This discovery propelled them into a journey of resilience, love, and strategic planning.
What Needs Addressing
Health: Jane and Mike began to realize something was amiss when they and their families arrived at their parents’ place and observed that the lawn had been left to grow longer than usual and the kitchen floor, although clear of any food, was beginning to appear grimy. Neither was characteristic of their parents’ home before. When asked, their dad said of the uncut lawn that the recent rain had prevented him from getting to it, but that he expected to cut it this week. As for the kitchen floor, their mom grew a bit defensive and said it looked fine to her. After some uncomfortable silence, the conversation turned to topics they enjoyed, like the good season the Vancouver Canucks were having.
Disability Planning: Despite their general good health for a couple in their early 80s, these hints of trouble in managing their home are a sign that those challenges will almost inevitably increase. Jane and Mike want to prepare in advance so that their parents can manage as well as possible despite reduced capacity.
Family Law Issues: The advanced age of their parents added another layer to their concerns. What responsibilities should they take on, that might involve legal obligations? Although they want to provide the care that their parents need, they also want to do it in a manner that is in keeping with the law.
Taxes: After Jane and Mike returned to their respective homes that evening, the conversations began in earnest. A mutual friend was an accountant and after raising the subject of tax planning for seniors, their friend suggested several things they should investigate. They realized that understanding the tax implications for both their parents and them was crucial.
Estate Planning: Jane and Mike knew that their parents had created wills but suspected that they had named each other as executors. Given that both were showing some signs of deterioration in their health, they felt an urgent need to ask their parents to review their wills with their lawyer so that they could be updated accordingly.
Spurred to Action
The disquieting effect of seeing evidence of their parents’ aging spurred Jane and Mike to create an inventory of issues to be addressed. They realized, though, that they couldn’t spring all of it on their parents at once. So, they resolved to work at it one step at a time. Open and honest communication became the glue that they hoped would hold the entire plan together. Jane and Mike understood the importance of aligning with their parents’ wishes.
Developing a Plan
The next time they visited, Jane and Mike gently raised the subject of getting older. Jane, who was the older of the two, observed that her own children were now young adults and that she was now over 50 and wondered how she had the energy to raise her three kids. Mike chimed in, noting that his daughter now ran circles around him when they played one-on-one basketball on their driveway. Their dad caught on to their unsubtle hint and with a disarming smile on his face asked them, “So, does this mean you would like to talk about the fact that your mom and I aren’t getting any younger?” Relieved, Jane and Mike nodded. To their surprise, their parents had started to look into some alternatives to their current living arrangement.
One of the first things they looked into was the idea of downsizing so that they could use their energy for more enjoyable tasks than home maintenance. Jane and Mike’s dad confessed that he didn’t enjoy mowing the lawn anymore. However, they couldn’t find any alternatives that satisfied their wants. Jane then asked if they would consider hiring a yard maintenance company and maybe a home cleaning service, pointing out that many of their friends used both. That would help them continue to maintain their home and spend more time on activities that added to their sense of joy and good health.
One of the initial reasons for hesitating about hiring lawn and house care people was that their parents weren’t confident about whether their money would go far enough if they had to pay for services they used to accomplish on their own. However, after finding an independent financial planner to prepare a plan, they found that they were actually saving more money than they were spending. Although they had spent more in the earlier years of their retirement, since hitting their 80s they found that their daily life had gotten simpler and their frugality, well developed after over 50 years of marriage, meant that they spent less than their income. Still concerned about expenses later in life, the planner found that, in all probability, they would carry on with a substantial surplus by the end of their lives.
Given this renewed sense of financial confidence, in a later meeting with their parents, Jane and Mike raised the subject of preparing for potential issues around increasing disability, both physical and mental. Their parents acknowledged the importance of establishing clear healthcare directives and an updated power of attorney (POA) to ensure their wishes were honoured. Earlier in their lives, they had given each other powers of attorney, but now that they were getting older, they realized that they should probably name Jane and/or Mike to that role.
With slowly declining health, to allow their parents to live in their home for as long as reasonably possible, Jane, Mike, and their parents began to inventory home modifications that could help them. In the bathrooms, they decided to install grab bars, non-slip mats, and a raised toilet seat. Both parents had their favourite “comfy” chairs where they liked to sit down in the evening and read or watch TV, but they admitted finding them more difficult to get out of, so those were also slated for an update.
For now, the parents felt like that was enough, but they knew that things like medical alert systems, regular assessments of their driving ability to drive safely, and Meals on Wheels would probably be coming. They were beginning to realize that these were tools to help them remain capable of living on their own and not signs of weakness.
Other Financial Planning Matters
Estate Planning and Legal Matters
Although Jane and Mike have every intention of supporting their parents as needed, they were surprised to read that they actually have the legal liability to do so under family law if their parents cannot take care of themselves. Fortunately, this is unlikely to be an issue given the financial resources that their parents already have.
However, this pushed Jane and Mike to explore all the other legal matters that might arise. For one thing, what would happen if one of the parents had gotten seriously ill and the other parent wasn’t in a state to decide on the sick parent’s behalf? They realized that they needed to have a clearer sense of their parents’ values around life, illness, and death. A friend pointed them to the Plan Well Guides website where they could work through the Guide to Exploring so they could learn better how to prepare for decision-making in the wake of serious illness and even generate a “Dear Doctor Letter” that would help the substitute decision-maker communicate the ill person’s values and treatment preferences. Jane and Mike saw such value in this that not only did they and their parents go through the guide, but they persuaded their respective spouses to do so as well.
This discussion led to a conversation about wills. Their parents decided to appoint Jane as the executrix for both of them as she was the older child, with Mike as the alternate. They had talked about naming them as joint executors but a conversation that Mike had with his lawyer when he and his wife were making their wills led him to suggest that one of them be made the primary executor and the other child the alternate. The potential for coordination issues, delays, and disputes settled it for Mike and his position won the day.
Elder Abuse and The Trusted Contact Person
Their parents were still fully independent and neither Jane nor Mike wanted to get in the way of that lasting as long as possible. However, they were concerned about the phenomenon of elder abuse, particularly financial abuse, that happens to many seniors in Canada and want to protect them as much as possible. Even though they very much had their wits about them, and Jane and Mike lived in the same community, they were still concerned that someone might try to take advantage of them. They had heard about a Trusted Contact Person (TCP) in the investment industry and wanted to get that set up for them, too. The purpose is so that an investment advisor has someone else to reach out to when their clients or the clients’ powers of attorney (POAs) aren’t available. The TCP has no authority over the clients’ accounts but is a kind of emergency contact when the advisor notices unusual behaviour by the clients but is unable to reach them or their POAs. Their parents mentioned a neighbour about 15 to 20 years their junior, recently retired, and who regularly took care of watering the plants, picking up mail, and generally watching over the house while they were on vacation. They seemed a good choice, so Jane and Mike suggested that they bring up the topic the next time they got together for coffee.
On another visit, Jane and Mike worked through a checklist of tax deductions, credits, and other strategies that were available to them to make sure that their parents were taking advantage of the opportunities the government was offering them. Fortunately, they were already splitting their pension income and claiming tax credits for medical expenses and the Age Amount, but they realized that plans to make changes to the bathrooms meant that their parents were eligible to claim the Home Accessibility Tax Credit. Finally, they talked about the possibility of one or both of the parents getting to the point of a recognized disability; they might qualify for the Disability Tax Credit in that case.
Learning from This Story
The story of Jane, Mike, and their parents serves as a testament to the resilience that can emerge when faced with the challenges of aging. Through careful planning and open communication, they had begun to navigate the complexities of aging.
Call to Action
It is never too early to start the conversation with your own family. There are resources, strategies, and professionals available to guide you through the process of aging, whether for yourself or on behalf of elderly parents. Explore tax planning, family law issues, disability planning, estate planning, and alternative care options. Start the journey today to ensure that the path ahead is navigated with care, compassion, and foresight.
National Institute on Ageing
The National Institute on Ageing is a Toronto Metropolitan University think tank focused on the realities of Canada’s ageing population. Through our work, our mission is to enhance successful ageing across the life course and to make Canada the best place to grow up and grow old.
We are Canada’s only think tank dedicated to policy solutions for an ageing population. We work at the intersections of healthcare, financial security, and social well-being.
Plan Well Guide
Created by Dr. Daren Heyland, an ICU doctor, Plan Well Guide (PWG) is a one-stop planning, coordination, resource and education platform to help people prepare for serious illness in advance.
Age Well at Home
The Age Well at Home initiative is a new federal grants and contributions program. The funding supports projects that enable seniors to age in place by providing support under two streams:
- In-Home Support Pilot Projects; and
- Scaling Up for Seniors.
Home Accessibility Tax Credit
The HATC is a non-refundable tax credit for eligible home renovation or alteration expenses that allow a qualifying individual to gain access to, or to be mobile or functional within the eligible dwelling or reduce the risk of harm to the qualifying individual within the dwelling or in gaining access to the dwelling. You may be able to claim this credit if you are a qualifying individual or an eligible individual.
TaxTips.ca is a virtual one-stop shop for tax planning. Included in their wide variety of resources is a page of topics and resources for seniors (link above).
Long-Term Care Insurance
Long-term care insurance has largely faded from the insurance scene in Canada, except potentially as a rider on a life insurance policy. One of the few standalone insurance policy options that I am aware of (and note that I am NOT licensed to sell any form of insurance) is offered by Sun Life and is known as Sun Retirement Health Assist. Be aware that you must be between the ages of 45 and 71 to consider this plan.
This little office online enables impromptu care teams to upload and organize documents, health records, photos and anything else that was at first shared by email and email attachment. A to-do calendar, contacts directory, your documents library and notes board help you organize care.
It is private, secure, shareable and accessible. Some of us … don’t like computers and others use computers for daily work. It has to work for everyone and so at every turn, we work to Simplify Caring!
This is the 228th blog post for Russ Writes, first published on 2023-12-18
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Disclaimer: This blog post is intended for general information and discussion purposes only. It should not be relied upon for investment, insurance, tax, or legal decisions.