Jul 22, 2010

Personal finance columnist Michelle Singletary will host a live discussion on Thursday, July 22 at 12 p.m. ET to answer your questions about the financial and emotional costs of caring for elderly relatives. She will be joined by Elinor Ginzler of AARP and Paula Span, author of "When the Time Comes: Families With Aging Parents Share Their Struggles And Solutions," the Color of Money Book Club selection for the month of July.

After the chat, stick around around for Michelle's new video series, Color of Money Video, where she'll give her take on personal finance topics in the news and answer more of your questions.

Good afternoon everyone. Thanks for joining me today to talk about a very imporant issue.

I also want to remind you that today the Post is launching my first video chat. I'll be answering left over questions and talking about the hot financial topics right after the online text discussion is over. So stick around just after 1 p.m. to see me live. Who knows what I might say out loud!

What should we do when our parents have no savings and the children work, yet we earn enough to keep our own lives? We earn too much for assistance but not enough to pay for the upcoming expenses of nursing homes.

First - remember that when it comes to benefits and programs for your older parents, it is their financial situation that is considered, not yours.  And your parents might be eligible for some programs that you and they are not even aware of.  A short web-based program called Benefits QuickLink, www.benefitscheckup.org/index.cfm?partner_id=22 can tell you all the programs and services available to your parents.

Paying for elder care is a timely topic for me! My aunt currently needs home aides 24/7. She's renting an apartment, and can handle the bills for awhile, but who knows how long she'll live. What's the calculus for deciding when someone who needs 24-hour assistance should give up their place and move to a continuing care community? At some point she'll spend down so much she doesn't have the entrance fee, even if her income would hold up under the monthly payments, so it seems like a decision that could benefit from having some guidelines to consider. Of course she doesn't want to move -- but she's single with no family besides her neices and it's not like we have the kind of relationship where she'd be moving into our homes.

It *is* a very complicated decision, made more complex by the fact that very few seniors want to move out of their homes.  And continuing care retirement communities operate on a number of different models: some require very steep upfront payments, which may or may not be partially refunded later, but some charge month to month.

So let me take this opportunity to sing the praises of a fairly new type of professional called the geriatric care manager.  The national organization website (www.caremanager.org) has a locator to help you find a GCM near you.

These are usually social workers with additional training who are familiar with the eldercare services and options in your area, can assess your relative's situation and level of functioning, and accompany you through this long and sometimes fraught process.

If you can afford the hourly rate -- not cheap at $125 to $175 an hour depending on your location -- they can be godsends.  And in my experience, sometimes outsiders with credentials can move the discussion and the decisions along in ways that are difficult for family members themselves.

Moreover, when tensions arise, many GCMs are licensed clinical social workers who can also serve as sounding boards/therapists/negotiators to lower the temperature and keep everyone on track towards solutions.

Do any of you have recommendations/suggestions to help with the downsizing process?

It can be so hard to take all of your possessions gathered throughout your lifetime and make decisions about what to keep in your new housing setting.  For adult children, AARP wants you to remember that these decisions should be made by your parents.  You're there to help.  That might mean reminding them that they're going from five bedrooms to two or it can mean offering to spend time going from room to room and evaluating each piece of furniture and "tagging" it to show who will get what.  Also, there are professionals out there to help with this.  A whole new breed of business is growing of professional organizers who can help specifically with downsizing.

The process is so emotional, though, that I think sometimes the professionals have an easier time dealing with parents to whom every other object feels meaningful and hard to part with. 

They don't come cheap, but I've seen them handle some tough situations.

The National Association of Senior Move Managers, based in Illinois, can help you find someone in your area.  www.nasmm.org.

Ditto the National Association of Professional Organizers. www.napo.net

My husband and I are going thu this right now with my father-in-law. He doesn't want to move even tho he really needs to.  So we stop pushing and are letting him slowly get rid of his stuff for what I think will be an eventual move to an assisted living facility.

This is hard for all of us -- him and us.

What makes more sense as one heads into their 50's and 60's, long-term health insurance, or life insurance?

Long term care insurance and life insurance are two very different products.  You might find that one of these is appropriate, both or neither.  In any case, it is very important to understand exactly what coverage you're buying, what it costs now and what it will cost in the future.

Find a good insurance person, one who will put his or her sales hat to the side for a moment to really talk you thu both of these types of polices. But before you do the sit down, do a lot of research. I've written about this, AARP has a ton of information on it's web site as does other nonprofits.

Hi Michelle, I am a single woman, 33, and am getting ready to purchase a home. With all of the expenses that go along with a new home, and not making a lot of money (am a professional in higher ed), I worry because I'm not saving enough for retirement, or saving much at all. I'm already working two, sometimes three jobs, and I don't want to do it forever! How can I start planning now? Thanks!

First, you need to ask yourself if you are ready to buy a home. If you are behind on your retirement savings now and you don't have much in your emergency fund, getting a house will now may just make things worse.

So back up a bit. Make sure you have a sound budget and a savings cushion aside from the money you may have for the house.  You need an emergency fund and a life happens fund in addition to money to buy your home.

I know buying a home is important and I'm a big advocate of homeownership but if you are just getting by now with one main job and a couple of side jobs, the expense  and upkeep of a house may push you over the financial edge. I'm not saying don't buy, but you may need to wait just a bit more to sure up your financial house.

Hello! I have been a fan of your chats for a long time. I have been saving money for years now to buy my first home and will finally be doing so tomorrow. I will still have an 8 month emergency fund that I will not touch, as well as a savings account (about 20k) for "life happens" stuff and a smaller savings account (about 5k) for unexpected home repairs. Obviously, being a first time home buyer I am still a little nervous about the new expenses even after crunching the numbers a million times. What kind of financial advice can you give me as I begin this new chapter in my life? Thanks so much for your advice, delayed gratification is truly a blessing.

I hope the person who asked the earlier question about buying a house reads carefully what you've done to prepare for your new home. Bravo or Brava to you.

You really have put all your financial ducks in a row. So my one piece of advice is don't try to fill the house up with new stuff right away. Don't buy much at all in fact. When I moved into my first single family house I went NUTS! I was at Target like every day. My husband actually had to put me on Target probation, meaning I couldn't go there for months. It's funny now but not back then. I just wanted so many little things to spruce up the house -- towels, new dishes, plants, rugs, etc.

Just be careful and take the decoration slow.

Hi Michelle (and others) - What is your take on personal finance programs such as Mint.com? I find it a fantastic way to budget and track, but am wondering if I should have a back-up system that is not entirely on the Internet like Excel, Quicken, iBank, etc. What do you think?

I think if the site is helping you budget great. But I alwasy like backups!

Thanks for discussing this important topic that so many of us are dealing with. My question is for Paula Span. My parents are in their late 80's and were raised during the Great Depression. They really need more help around the house but they are afraid to spend their money. It's as if they're saving it for a rainy day - and that day has finally come - but they're just so worried it won't last. (Truthfully, they're middle class and have obviously saved their whole lives. They also have 3 adult children who would always be available to help them.) Here's another example, on several occasions they should have called an ambulance, but they're so afraid of being billed an outrageous sum that they've risked great injury. None of their children live in the area so we can't intervene on the spot. Any tips would be greatly appreciated!

If it's any comfort at all, this is SUCH a common scenario.  Yes, it probably has to do with the extremely frugal values they grew up with through the Depression (and let's not complain too much -- that's WHY they saved their whole lives).  But often there's an emotional component to this reluctance, too: Nobody wants to acknowledge that they can no longer manage their own households.  Nobody likes to feel dependent.

And of course, it's all harder when you're trying to help long-distance.

Is there some trusted person -- the family lawyer?  or physician?  a local pastor? another relative? -- who might be able to intervene, move the discussion along?  If they're reluctant to have "a stranger in my house," could a local church or service organization help arrange for someone -- a well-vetted someone -- to come in privately and assist?

Sometimes, too, an outsider has more clout than children do.  So I often suggest a geriatric care manager, who can not only assessd your parents' situation, figure out what sort of help they need and where to get it, but can also be your local eyes and ears.  Once help is in place, a local GCM can just visit your folks once or twice a month to make sure everything is working the way it should.  And though of course your parents would never pay for the GCM, with three adult children, perhaps you could split the cost.

Remember, your peace of mind about your parents' well-being is worth something, too.

My Mom has caused me to be in a dilemma. When I could no longer care for her at home, I tried putting her into nursing homes where she became a patient from hell. She would accuse the attendants of sexual misconduct and call the police on 911. She did the same at 4 different nursing homes. I eventually was banned by all the nursing homes in the city where I live and they have put her on the do not admit list that they all share. Now she is home and says she wants to go back to a nursing home since she knows that she cannot get the same level of care that she did there. But the only one that I have been able to find says that they only take Medicare patients. My mom is a Medicare patient, but she also must be admitted from the hospital as a Medicare patient and not a Medicaid patient, which she will become after the Medicare runs out. The hospital won't admit her since they cannot do anything for her medically. So I can't get her into that nursing home either. What do you suggest as to how to get this revolving door of health care behind me?

You have a resource in the Long-term Care Ombudsman program in your state.  Here is the link to find the ombudsman for your area, www.ltcombudsman.org/.  Their job is to advocate for the rights of long-term care residents.  Ask them for assistance.

If I ever win the lottery, I will work part-time and have a "purpose". I won't just sit and lounge. I will definitely contribute to the children's college fund, tithe, pay off the mortgage (and maybe move to a house with plenty of closet space and an updated kitchen) :-). I will do my best to just keep living "normally", just with the security of knowing the money is there. I would hire a great lawyer and financial advisor (are you available?). I like the security of knowing the emergency fund is fully funded, retirement is no longer a worry, travel is paid for, mortgage is gone and I don't have to wait to get old to have all of these checkboxes marked with a big "X". I have worked a long time, so I will see it through to retirement. I have seen a lot about lottery winners who lost their minds and went broke in a year trying to make everyone happy. I would claim the money anonymously, if possible, and go back to work like nothing happened. I would work part-time only and spend a lot more time with my children. I miss them everyday while I am out commuting, shuffling paper in the office and missing their childhood...all chasing a buck. There must be a different way to live. Lastly, I would replace the 14-year old van immediately and pay CASH.

Today's e-letter: Quick Riches

I like your plan. And if you win, I am available for adoption if a trust fund comes along with it!

If you aren't sure what this person is talking about follow the link to my eletter for today. I discuss the New HBO documentary, "Lucky" about lottery winners.

I'll also be talking about that during the live video chat in the next hour.

My mother has been at a wonderful nonprofit continuing care facility for almost 13 years. She is now 94 years old and although she had a mild stroke 10 years ago, she is in pretty good health and has all her marbles. First she lived in an independent apartment but two years ago, after a series of falls, we moved her into assisted living. She is now at Care Level 2 at a cost of roughly $84,000 per year. Here's the problem: she is running out of money. She will never hit zero because she has my father's pension and Social Security, totaling about $50,000/year. We have sold off most of her stocks (she was a very good investor when she was younger) to pay her bills and she has an annuity of about $240,000 she has held for many years. We will start tapping that but if she is raised to Care Level 3 or moves to the nursing home on the campus, that will be gone in as little as two or three years. The nursing home charges $12,000/month. The facility says it will take care of Mom through its benevolent care fund but they won't put anything in writing. I'm afraid we will spend her annuity down to zero and then the facility will tell us they can't care for her any longer. I'm sure others have faced this dilemma. We don't know whether to bring her home or keep her where she is and hope for the best. She is very happy, has lots of activities which she enjoys, and values her independence highly. We took Mom on vacation with us a few weeks ago and after a few days she couldn't wait to get back to her own place. Thanks for any advice you can give!

It is great to hear that the continuing care facility has let you know that they will use their benevolent care fund if needed.  One idea is to let them know just how anxious the whole family is to have this information in writing.  They want your mom to stay and it sounds like it is a really good placement for her.  Let them know that everyone wants her to stay there and the way to make that happen and for you to be able to continue to pay until she runs out of resources is to have their commitment in writing.

Hi Michelle, Thanks for all your great advice! Here's a question: I just turned 30, have had a few different non-profit jobs in the area in the last ten years, and I have retirement savings at 2 of these organizations that I never rolled over or transferred that is just sitting there. What should I do with it? I am now working for the federal government so I don't believe I'm allowed to roll the money into my current TSP. I am pretty clueless with all of this. Help!

Look into setting up a Rollover IRA. Then you can rollover the money from both accounts into the one account.  But be sure the money is a direct transfer from the accounts to the new IRA so you don't have to pay taxes.

Hi Michelle, I really enjoy your column and chats. I have an issue that is kind of ironic, I guess. When I was a recent college graduate on a very tight budget, I was really good at keeping track of all my spending, setting limits on my discretionary spending, and making sure I was able to save, travel, etc. Six years after beginning full-time work, I have a significantly higher income, but basically the same necessary expenses, so I have much more disposable income. The thing is, now that I know I have so much room in my budget, I've become very lazy at keeping track of spending. I never categorize my purchases and have no idea how much I'm spending on dining out every month, for example. But I know it is a lot, and I'm sure I'd be horrified at the numbers if I added them up. I have a rainy day fund and I'm putting 5% in my TSP, so at least I'm not totally out to lunch, but I know I should be doing better. Do you have any advice for getting back on track with my budget? Thanks!

You need discipline my friend and a plan for your "extra" money.

First, face the money. You need to figure out how much you are wasting. So I have an assignment for you (it's what I recommend people do in my new book "The Power to Prosper."

Starting tomorrow and for 30 days I want you to keep a spending journal. In that journal I want you to write down every penny you spend, from the online bills you pay on a particular day to the bag of chips from the vending maching -- EVERYTHING. Record all your expenditures in the journal. And beside each entry write whether it was a need or a want.

When the 30 days are up look back and see what you spent. It may give you the resolve to be that great budgeter you were when you didn't have as much money.

And then come back and tell me how it went.

My Dad was diagnosed about 4 years ago with Alzheimers. His progression has thankfully been slow. What's challenging is that he still retains some capabilities -- and wants to live more independently (he's in an Independence Plus program) -- but clearly he can't live on his own. I don't know how to bridge the gap for him. He's bored and lonely. Another issue: he spends unwisely and is particularly attracted to any purchase that includes a free offer (of something he doesn't need).

Good for you for understanding how your dad is dealing with this lousy disease and good for you for dealing with it yourself.  If you feel like he won't listen to you in your suggestions for what he needs, consider using an outside objective professional to make an assesment and let him know what they believe will help him.  Here is a link to help find a care manager in your area who can do an assesment, http://caremanager.org/.

I've heard scary stories of elderly people having to "spend down" their savings or transfer ownership of their homes in order to enter nursing homes. Do these situations relate to only certain types of circumstances, and how can this be avoided?

"Spending down" assets is what older people have to do in order to qualify for Medicaid, which pays for most nursing home care.  Typically, someone entering a nursing home pays for her own care as long as she has money, then applies for Medicaid, which takes over.

If a parent has enough money to pay for a nursing home indefinitely, you need never get involved with this process.  But with the average national cost of a semiprivate room in a nursing home at about $70,000, most seniors do need Medicaid eventually.

This is a complicated process, and certain assets are exempt.  People can keep a house, usually, and they can reserve some assets if there's a spouse who is still living independently.

I wouldn't attempt to figure out Medicaid situations myself.  This is what elder attorneys do all day long, and if a person has considerable assets, it's worth consulting one.   Ask around your community for a specialist in elder law (your ordinary family lawyer might not have this expertise) or find someone through the National Association of Elder Law Attorneys.  www.naela.org

Sunday's article was very informative. How can anyone with $25,000 savings think they can afford to retire? With all the articles in the paper, TV, workshops at work, how can people be so under-educated about their retirement?

He or she thinks they can retire because they haven't run the numbers!

After Michelle's chat wraps up at 1:00, stick around to check out her new video chat.  She'll be weighing in on some personal finance topics in the news and also answering some questions she couldn't get to in today's chat.

What do you do when parents refuse to spend money on things that could make life easier and safer because they're afraid to run through their savings? It seems like mine expect me to spend my own money, which I really can't afford, but they have too much of their own money to qualify for financial help. I know they have a right to live any way they want, but I worry!

Oh you are so on my street right now.  I so know and feel what you are going thu.

What we've done is spend when we can and don't mind.  We also understand the fear. Live long and you could run out of money.

Just keep being there and encouraging your parent that he or she needs to spend the money he or she saved in a lifetime to make things easier. Then just let go.

Paula, I want to thank you for writing your book. I've been taking care of my elderly parents, now in their nineties, for the past 15 years. I've heard all the stories, been through it myself, seen my friends' struggles. What you've written really rings true. Appreciate the lists, too.


What is your opinion on Long-Term Health Insurance? I am single and in my mid 50's and applied for a policy that would be paid up in 10 years. The benefits or amount to be paid out from the policy were realistic (I cannot remember the exact amounts and timing) but the monthly premium was just under $600/mo. The insurance company has initially denied coverage due to a misunderstanding of a childhood diagnosis, but this is in the process of being resolved. I realize I need to correct this medical denial, as it is an error that should be removed from insurance records. But I am having some doubts about obtaining the insurance with such a large monthly premium. I do not own, have no debt and do have about 6 months + living expenses saved. I have been laid off twice in my career due to the economy and worry that this is always possible. I would appreciate your opinion on how I should proceed. Thank you.

Long-term care insurance is a very complex product and it is good that you are seriously evaluating your options.  Planning for long-term care in general is so important.  Kudos to you for thinking about this at this point in your life.  AARP has developed resources, especially designed for Boomer women to help them through the long-term care planning process, www.aarp.org/decide.

Good luck.

Unfortunately, I have not had an opportunity to read either book being reviewed today but I plan to. I am beginning to research alternatives for in-home care and assisted living care for my mother who lives with me and is now 81. She thinks we should check out what Medicare may cover in terms of in-home care. Do any of you have any knowledge of what may be covered?

It is important to understand just what Medicare does and does not cover.  In-home care coverage through Medicare is very limited and usually only applies to short-term skilled care needed after a hospitalization.  This could be related to changing dressings after surgery or some physical therapy in the home during recuperation.  You can't count on Medicare to cover in-home care for any extended length of time.  For that matter, Medicare does not cover assisted-living either.

This is one of the questions that tends to shock adult children when the family finally considers some sort of paid help for its older members: Medicare pays for doctors and hospitals and now drugs.  But as Elinor points out, it does NOT pay for home care except to a limited extent after a hospitalization.  It does NOT pay for assisted living.  It doesn't pay for extended nursing home stays either -- short-term rehab yes, but when a nursing home becomes your home, no. 

And Medicaid, which does pay for some of these things but not all, is meant for the poor.  Of course, with nursing homes costing an average $6000 a month or so, it's all too easy for an older person who's saved all her life to become poor.

In other parts of the world, they handle this differently.  Here, when old people need help, they and their families are pretty much on their own until they become impoverished.

This is why I have long-term care insurance.  I have one daughter and sadly, she doesn't manage a successful hedge fund.  I need to fund my own long term care.

Michelle, this is off today's topic, but I'm hoping you'll help. My husband is self-employed, and his income is erratic. Some months he'll have big paydays, others are really light. My income covers almost all our expenses, but we still need his for a few. Right now, we just bank what he brings in and draw it down a little each month. Are we on the right track?

You are on the right track. Just a few things. First please, please make sure you are paying your quarterly taxes and on time.

Next, start with a monthly budget and try to get it as close to what you bring in every month.  You need a baseline of how much income you need every month to meet your budget needs.  You are right to bank the big checks and the little checks and pull from them what you need every month. What typically happens with people with uneven money every month is that in the big check months they spend it all, without saving some to even ou the months when the money is low. Hopefully, you can bank enough so that throughout the year so that the months with the larger money is used to offset the low-earning months, with some leftover to carry into the next year to start the process all over.

I love my job, so I would keep working, but it would be nice to: 1) Pay off my student loans and mortgage. 2) Pay off my parent's mortgage and my brother's mortgage. 3) Set up retirement trusts for myself and my wife, as well as our immediate family members. 4) Set aside enough a fund to comfortably cover vacations, new vehicles, etc.. 5) Donate, donate, donate.

Sounds like you've given this a lot of thought. Just be careful about paying off stuff for people if they aren't good money managers. Often that means they see all this extra money and go on a spending spree putting themselves in debt.

My mother simply will not have any conversations about this stuff, even though she's in poor health. I talked to a geriatric care manager who told me that as long as she's competent, she's entitled to refuse to discuss it with me. I'm at my wit's end. How am I supposed to prepare myself for the time when she needs my help when she won't cooperate? It's like she wants me to help her, but when I offer my help, she turns it down.

AARP knows that talking about money is the hardest topic for older parents and adult children.  Many others have experienced your frustration.  Here are a couple of "tricks" you might try to open up the conversation.

1. Use lots of "I" statements to show that this is about you caring about her, not wanting to take over.  An example would be, "Mom, I'm so worried that I won't be able to help you when you need it because I don't know enough about your financial situation."

2. Use an article about an elderly scam as a conversation starter.  AARP the Magazine often covers the unfortunate story of an older person being financially exploited.

3. If your mom won't hear you when you talk, try writing a letter to her.  Again, come at this from a caring perspective and urge her to see your interest as a way for her to stay in control in the future if you need to make decisions on her behalf.

I very much agree with Elinor. We had to take it slow and my husband and I used that I strategy a lot. And it worked! There are still a lot of issues but so much better when we didn't have any information at all.

Michelle, I wanted to point out that there's some great FREE information from the National Institute on Aging. There is even a whole section on Planning & Decision making, covering topics like end-of-life issues, saving for retirement, choosing a facility, and long-distance caregiving. Oh, and did I mention that they're FREE?

AARP is also a great source of information, articles, checklists and tools to help you, www.aarp.org/caregiving.

My husband is going to law school this fall and while he did get a scholarship, it will not completely pay for his education. We will have to take out some loans. He will be going to school full time and not earning an income. We have saved enough money to pay our mortage for the school year and I earn enough to pay our other bills, but that is it. We will not be able to save for the mortgage next year. I am already cutting out everything we do not need--well, really trying! Do you have any recommendations besides taking out student loans for our mortgage? We cannot sell or refinance our house because it is underwater. Thank you for any advice you can offer!

Certainly don't take out loans to pay on a loan. Just a deeper hole.

Keep doing what you're doing and think out of the box. Can you take in a boarder to help with the mortgage. Can your hubby get a nighttime job even for a few hours to help. Just continue to do what you can to avoid piling on debt because I will tell you there are a lot of attorneys who piled on a lot of student loan debt and are finding they aren't earning the big salaries they had hoped for.

I have no student debt from college but my wife, who just finished law school, has sizable debt. I also have much better credit than her. I'm considering cosigning her loan to get a better rate and allow for more flexibility but what will happen if we get divorced? I know i'll still be responsible as a cosigner but would I be able to receive compensation for absorbing her debt?

Nope. No compenstation unless you try to get some form of alimony or whatever.

Basically you co-sign, you get divorced, still your debt.

But why so negative? You aren't helping her, you are helping the two of YOU!

Michelle, I am 44 and currently reside with my mother of 82. She has battled shingles and is coping with arm pain receiving PT up to 3x a week. One of the things I notice is that she will tell me things that happened either from a phone call to watching TV days ago and will repeat some things too. Is this normal for elderly to talk out loud just to hear themselves?

Is your concern that she may be showing signs of memory loss or some other kind of cognitive impairment?


One thing we are learning is that "normal" for older people can be very different.  We take our children to pediatricians because we understand that their bodies function differently from adults', but we don't have nearly enough geriatricians who specialize in the way older adults' bodies and brains behave.


It's hard to tell from a distance whether your mother feels lonely or socially isolated and could use a local Friendly Visitor program or an adult day program, so she can have some stimulation when you're not home, or whether there's something neurological going on. 

And remember that drugs -- like perhaps drugs she might have taken for shingles? -- sometimes also have profound impact on older bodies.  The elderly metabolize both prescription and over the counter drugs (and alcohol, too) differently from younger adults.


If you're concerned about her mental and physical health, try to take her to a geriatrics service in your area for an all-around workup.  The best, often at university medical centers, also have social workers and can help you figure out if she's getting all she needs.  If it's her mental state that's worrying you, a neurologist or memory center might be the way to go.


She's lucky that you are keeping an eye on her and noticing what might seem subtle or unimportant changes.

What's the right age to start looking into long-term care insurance? I'm in my early 40s.

Tricky question, because costs are lower in your 40's than they will be later -- but you are paying those lower costs for more years.

But you're smart to think ahead, because if you start developing serious health problems, many insurers will no longer sell you a policy, at least not at rates you can afford.

Most folks seem to find the mid 50's a reasonable compromise.  If you know you have a family history of diabetes or heart disease, you might err on the earlier side.

I'd recommend an inflation rider that increases the total amount of your coverage over the years.  Costs a little more, but I have it and it gives me some assurance that if I don't need help for 20 years, the benefits won't be totally inadquate.  And my policy also allows me to buy additional coverage at pre-set ages -- 60, 65 and 70, I think -- so I can pay less at first and then more later.

My mom wants to stay at home as long as possible but needs extra care. We are looking at hiring a caregiver. Any suggestions?

You have two basic choices, hiring somone individually or going through an agency.  AARP has information on both.

For help, check out www.aarp.org/relationships/caregiving/info-02-2010/choosing_a_home_care_worker.html


My parents are currently in their early 70s and very healthy for their ages. Geographically I am the closest of their 2 children but I am still 9 hours away. My parents have never discussed their finances with me, other than to let me know where the important paperwork is located and who I should call in the event of a tragedy that takes them both at the same time. How do I start a conversation that helps me understand the plans they've made for themselves and their expectations of me and my brother, given how far away we both live? Running down for frequent visits just isn't practical or possible, but I anticipate significant resistance to any suggestions that they move closer. I remember having this problem with my grandmother years ago and I'm hoping my parents won't be as stubborn as she was, because it really damaged our entire family.

Your situation is very typical but the good news is that they have already started to talk you about the future.  Just letting you know where their important papers are located is a great first step.  Use that first step to continue the conversations.  Let them know how much you care about them, how much you want them to stay healthy (the way they are now) and how much you want to help them should they need it.  Then, thank them for telling you about the paperwork and encourage them to also share with you if they've made any other plans and what they think about their care needs for the future.  This is just the time to be having these conversations, when all is well.  Not everything can be decided in one conversation but it is important to know their preferences.  Good luck.

Michelle, I've been reading you for years and I had to write and tell you that I am paying off my mortgage TODAY, almost exactly 10 years after purchase! Here is how we did it: (1) We were lucky that we had no previous debt. My parents paid for my education. (2) I was in grad school when we were first married, receiving tuition and a modest stipend. When I graduated and got a job, we didn't increase our standard of living very much. This enabled us to save, me to take a year off without pay when our 3rd child was born and my husband to stay home or work part-time after that. (3) We are lucky in that my current job, which I love, is in a delightful part of the country that is not crazy expensive. We bought a nice house, probably not the most expensive we could have qualified for. (4) We put down 20% and prepaid quite a bit, based on the savings and living-below-income described above. (5) My very frugal dad died at age 70 in 2008, and I inherited a bit more than my annual salary. I miss him, but I learned from his financial prudence growing up, and I'm benefitting from it now as this windfall is enabling us to finish the mortgage debt. Our only other debt is a no-interest car loan with 16 months to go. I plan to save what we were paying. Frugal in New England. .

I love debt-free stories.

Congrats to you!!!!!

In fact, I want to hear from more of you about how you got out of  debt. I'll read your stories during future video chats. So send them my way via this chat today or to my e-mail at singletarym@washpost.com. Please let me know where you live.

My dad is 75 and has heart problems. He is currently living in Central America and has friends and a housekeeper checking in on him. He has basically no money, due to years of mismanagement and irresponsibility. I know there will soon be a day when he can no longer take care of himself. Frankly, I'm having a hard time coming to terms with that. We do not have a close relationship. He was abusive in the past, and has spent most of my adult years being very self-involved and rude. Or stealing my sibling's credit cards and ruining her credit. Or criticizing me and being rude to my fiance. Having him in my household would severely damage my relationship with my fiance, but I can't afford to put him up anywhere. What should I do? He is a member of a Native American tribe that would take care of him on the reservation, but he refuses to move there. And why do I feel like such a terrible person?

Would it help at all to know that even the most compassionate, involved, sensitive adult kids sometimes feel like monsters when they tackle these issues?  We want to make everything all right, and sometimes we can't.  I think understanding our limitations is key to taking care of our parents, especially if they're resistant, far away (let alone on another continent!), and impoverished.

Your situation is too complicated to answer in this online way.  Your local aging ombudsman may be able to offer some local resources, or the tribe might have social workers to help out.   Mental health agencies who offer therapy on a sliding cost scale might be a good investment, too -- for yourself, because you are suffering from a lot of competing demands with not a lot of obvious solutions.

I wish you well with all this.  It's a lot to shoulder.

Thanks so much for joining in, everyone.  Good luck to us all (my own dad is 87 and doing okay for now, but every time the phone rings before 8 a.m. I wonder, is this the call?) with these complicated questions.

So got to go folks. Great chat thanks for joining me. If you can hang around and you watch from your computer or home, stick around for the live video chat in just a few minutes. 

In This Chat
Michelle Singletary
Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, "The Color of Money," which appears in The Post on Thursday and Sunday. Her award-winning column is also carried in more than 120 newspapers. In her spare time, Singletary is the director of a ministry she founded at her church, in which women and men volunteer to mentor others who are having financial challenges.

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Paula Span
Span is the co-author of "When the Time Comes: Families With Aging Parents Share Their Struggles And Solutions," The Color of Money Book Club selection for July.
Elinor Ginzler
Ginzler is Senior Vice President for Livable Communities at AARP. She is the co-author of "When the Time Comes: Families With Aging Parents Share Their Struggles And Solutions," the Color of Money Book Club selection for July.
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