Help is available

You don't have to become a Medicare expert to help your parents; you just need to connect with one. Assistance abounds to bring you up to speed on the Medicare supplement options available to your parents.

A good place to start getting help with these issues is the State Health Insurance Assistance Program, or SHIP, a national program that provides free one-on-one counseling and assistance to Medicare recipients and their families. ShipTalk.org can connect you with agencies and free resources in your state that can help you compare Medicare plans, providers and options.

To start a little closer to home, your local Area Agency on Aging offers a valuable clearinghouse of community resources as well.

"They provide free services and information to help you navigate all the various systems, whether it's residential, transportation or nutrition, that can really help stretch Mom and Dad's money," says AARP's Hurme.

Looking to connect with other caregivers? The National Family Caregivers Association hosts an online forum and a "community action network" that allow caregivers to share stories and offer and receive advice and encouragement.

Your family may need a professional

Should you find yourself seated in that hospital waiting room, suddenly overwhelmed by what you don't know about your parents' health insurance or financial health, Kelly of the Family Caregiver Alliance says hiring a private geriatric case manager can be a good investment, especially if you don't live nearby.

"I think it's just easier to be able to shortcut through all of the fragmented options and have somebody walk you through the paperwork, how and where you apply, and what services you may be qualified for," she says. "In that case, having someone help you navigate through the system is a really wise investment because you're time-starved anyway."

Above all, proceed gently. "Kids tend to forget that they're the kids and not the parents," says Sullivan. "They can be overbearing and upset that relationship."

Caregiver checklist

AARP also suggests that children identify or set up the following to help aging parents with their finances:

  • Durable power of attorney (POA): Authorizes you to access accounts and act on parents' behalf without obtaining a court-ordered guardianship.
  • Advisers: Physician, lawyer, accountant and financial adviser.
  • Financial records: Bank account numbers, CDs, investment portfolio and safe deposit box keys.
  • Annual and monthly income and expenses.
  • Federal and state income tax returns.
  • Paperwork on loans, liens, rental agreements and business contracts.
  • Public benefits: Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and state property tax relief.
  • Medicare, Medicaid and other health insurance.
  • Life and long-term care insurance.
  • Directives: Living will and do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order.

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