The question of whether you’re ready to take care of your parents isn’t an easy one to answer, and it may be a very emotional one. But that does not mean you should ignore it.

A person’s health can change in an instant. It's not pretty, but it's the reality. It can be very messy, and it may cost a lot of money. But it's a lot easier to handle when you make plans well in advance.

So what’s the answer? The simple response is you must have a plan. But that is easier said than done. Perhaps you're not that far removed from college. Or maybe you're starting your own family. At this stage, it may feel unnecessary to have that talk with your parents about their care.

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Why It's Time to Ask the Tough Questions

You have other things on your mind — an upcoming job interview or a consulting project. Maybe you are interviewing a nanny or babysitter for your children. How about interviewing a caregiver for your parents? Probably not the right time.

Your plate is full — changing your daughter’s diapers, hoping your son will eat the food you prepared, and making sure your kids don’t fall down the stairs.

The last thing you want to think about is who will change your dad’s diapers.

And for that matter, who will help mom take a shower or get dressed? Who will help your mom get your dad back into bed because she isn’t strong enough to pick him up off the floor?

But as uncomfortable as the questions are, they need to be answered. If you don’t believe your parents will need help, you aren’t going to do anything.

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The same goes for your parents. If they don’t believe they will live a long life and will need some sort of assistance in their old age, they won’t be receptive to a plan.

Get the Family Together

As we grow older and begin establishing our own lives and families, it’s natural for siblings and cousins to drift apart. Some family we see all the time if we live in the same town, others only for big holidays or weddings, if then.

A good time to bring anyone who is willing to participate in planning for your aging parents’ care might be around a holiday such as the Fourth of July or Christmas.

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Depending on your family’s spiritual beliefs, you may want to have a religious adviser present. If there is any hired help, you should consider including them, as well. They’ll be more privy to some things you and your family may have no idea about.

Make sure to have a set agenda of concerns you want to address. If there are potentially serious plans that must be enacted in the long term, be sure to either record the meeting or take notes. Outline all the different responsibilities and emergency situations that could arise and decide as a unit who should do what.

You should also be willing to compromise. Have a plan B should someone be unavailable at any given moment.

Depending on your culture or personal feelings, you’ll have to decide if your parents should be present for those discussions. Consult those who will be involved in the process and decide if you’d like to ask your parents to join. This is something that they should have a say in.

Make a Plan to Take Care of Your Parents

Ideally, you and your parents mutually accept the premise that they might need help might in the future. Now you can get down to business.

Figuring Out the “Where”

Where will the care be delivered? If your parents are like most of the people I work with and help, the answer is they want to receive care at home. But is their home suitable for care? If they are living in a one-level ranch/rambler or apartment with no steps or only a small step to enter, the answer may be a resounding yes.

Even a one-story home may need modifications to make it easy for a walker or wheelchair.

The bathroom may need modifications, such as a raised toilet or a curbless shower. The kitchen may need some modifications, such as lower counters and easier-to-use fixtures. Quality contractors, carpenters, and plumbers, if you can find them, don’t work for free.

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There's also the possibility of investing in smart-home technology or medical alerts to help take care of your parents. This won't be free, either. If one or both of your parents might need medical alerts, you can check out CentSai‘s Medical Alert System Buyer's Guide to find the best option.

But if the above is not possible or affordable, will your parents have to move in with you or one of your siblings? Will they have to move to a senior housing complex, assisted living center, or a nursing home? Will it be near you or other family members?

Dealing With the “Who”

What about who will be the primary coordinator of their care? Who will be their health care proxy? Who will have a power of attorney over their financial matters? You should seek the assistance of a qualified legal counsel, with expertise in elder care.

Your parents may have a favorite child, but maybe that sibling lives halfway across the country or maybe is overseas. The geographically closest child might be your sister who has been battling various addictions and is probably not in the right frame of mind for this. It’s now up to you.

Crunching the Numbers

So, after you and your parents have come to terms with the emotional, logistical, and legal issues, it’s now time for the rubber to meet the road.

How do your parents pay for all of this?  Will they raid their emergency savings and assets? Their retirement accounts? Do they have long-term care insurance? Will they use home equity? The answers may be one or all the above.

To put it into something meaningful: If your parents needed $5,000, $7,000, or even $10,000 a month for their care, which of the options should be tapped first?

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What if they don’t have money? Will you and your family pay for their care? Are you going to help them apply for Medicaid or Medicare? If this is the direction you're headed in, make sure you speak with an attorney who is well versed in this.

Each state has different rules and limitations on what public health insurance can cover. There are also various financial as well as possible filial support laws to consider. That is when the state tries to recover Medicaid spending from adult children.

Final Thoughts on How to Take Care of Your Parents

There are no magic bullets here. Some options may be better than others, and sometimes you'll need to use more than one option. What is important is having a plan. The plan doesn’t have to be perfect, but you need to have one. As General George S. Patton Jr. said many years ago, “A good plan today is better than a perfect one tomorrow.”

Additional reporting by Jazmin Rosa.