How to Talk about Long-Term Care with Loved Ones

June 21, 2024 Susan Hirshman
Starting a conversation with loved ones about long-term care can be intimidating, however, having the talk can help both parties plan ahead and make important decisions together.

Discussing the potential need for long-term care can be a challenging topic for adult children to bring up with their parents as they age. But putting off the conversation until a later time isn't the answer.

Having a conversation about long-term care plans before specific care needs arise can help families avoid stressful situations, family strife, and unpleasant outcomes. After all, long-term care isn't an event that happens to an individual, often it is an experience that impacts an entire family.

Ahead, we'll cover tips on how adult children can approach the long-term care talk with their parents and five key questions to ask to start the conversation.

Tips on how to make the most of the long-term care talk

Figuring out how to start the long-term care talk with your parents in a way that feels supportive rather condescending can be a challenge for a lot of families.

It may feel intimidating to initiate a long-term care talk with your parents because of the emotions it may trigger for both parties. But initiating the conversation can play an important part in the planning process because the earlier you surface the conversation, the more time you have to create a plan.

Here are some tips on how to approach the topic from a compassionate and productive manner:

  • Be an empathetic listener: Try not to anticipate what your loved ones may say or how they will react, but instead, focus on listening carefully to their needs and perspective.
  • Expect emotions: It's not uncommon that they may feel uncomfortable, angry, or embarrassed to have such a conversation.
  • Phrase your concerns as questions: Avoid telling your parents what they should do.
  • Be straightforward (in a kind way): Gently bring up any observations that may factor into the long-term care plan, like if their physical ability to do basic household chores isn't the same as it used to be, or if you're concerned they can no longer safely drive themselves; don't hide negative information.
  • Be inclusive: When possible, have the discussion as a family versus one-on-one with each family member to help foster a comprehensive discussion that includes everyone's perspectives.
  • Revisit the conversation: It's likely that the discussion will happen over many different conversations versus just one sitting, so be cognizant to not overdo it if tensions start to rise.

5 key questions to ask when talking about long-term care

Consider starting the conversation by asking more open-ended questions like what their long-term care desires are, what their lifestyle wishes are as they age, and what they envision care will look like if they need partial or full-time assistance.

Then, direct the discussion to focus on these five questions that outline in more detail what care could look like.

1. What are the risks that long-term care needs may pose?

Identify the potential risks for all family members involved. For parents, the primary risk may be covering the long-term care expenses given increasing healthcare and long-term care costs.

The primary concern for the children may be that they'll have to sacrifice their time, careers, personal relationships, finances, and inheritances to support the financial and/or physical needs of their parents if there isn't a long-term care plan in place.

Have an honest conversation on the different risks involved for each party and explore ways to mitigate risks when possible.

2. Who will deliver the care?

Discussing a plan that includes details on who will provide the care and who will manage the care plan can help ease the potential financial and emotional burden on loved ones.

Have an open dialogue that sets expectations for how care will be provided and managed should care needs arise.

3. Where will the care be provided?

Explore what location(s) might be an option for long-term care assistance, if needed. Care can be provided in a home or senior living facility, depending on the needs of the individual and family involved. Discuss ideal locations and environments that might suit both parties.

It's important to recognize that health and custodial needs are dynamic and will likely change over time, requiring future discussions and changes related to the care plan.

4. How will the care be funded (if needed)?

The cost of long-term care is unique to each individual, and is based on factors like location, custodial and medical needs, and whether partial or full-time care assistance is required.

On average, the annual cost for long-term care ranges from $50,000 for home healthcare and assisted living to more than $100,000 for nursing home care, and the average duration of paid care is around three to five years.

Discuss different ways long-term care costs might be covered and determine if insurance or assistance from family members might make sense for your situation.

5. Are the estate planning documents in order?

Should a time come when your parents are no longer able to make decisions on their own, a clear estate plan can provide you and your family with a roadmap. Important estate planning documents can include a revocable living trust, a power of attorney (POA), advance directive (or a living will), and a healthcare proxy (or medical POA).

Ask whether your parents have their estate planning documents in order, and if they don't, encourage them to do so. If the documents already exist, ensure that they are easily accessible and that all family members are aware of the document terms and the rationale behind the choices outlined in the plan.

Bottom line

Discussing what care needs might be needed for parents as they transition into their senior years can surface a lot of emotions for families. But remember, the key is communicating and planning ahead. Consider the family dynamics at play and have a robust and open dialogue. A plan in place, with agreement on one's wishes and preferences should a long-term care need occur, is a gift beyond dollars for both seniors and their families.

The information provided here is for general informational purposes only and should not be considered an individualized recommendation or personalized investment advice. The investment strategies mentioned here may not be suitable for everyone. Each investor needs to review an investment strategy for his or her own particular situation before making any investment decision.

All expressions of opinion are subject to change without notice in reaction to shifting market conditions. Data contained herein from third-party providers is obtained from what are considered reliable sources. However, its accuracy, completeness, or reliability cannot be guaranteed.

Examples provided are for illustrative purposes only and not intended to be reflective of results you can expect to achieve.

Supporting documentation for any claims or statistical information is available upon request.