Most families create plans in order to achieve important goals throughout their lifetimes. Significant effort is often put into planning for homeownership, kids’ college educations, and saving for retirement. However, the vast majority of families do not put the same amount of effort into planning for a loved one’s future eldercare needs. In fact, most families never even have a family elder care plan until something catastrophic happens. 

Eldercare planning should be started sooner rather than later. It’s easy to understand how families could put off this task, as it can be uncomfortable to deal with. But it is far worse to delay the subject until an aging parent becomes too ill, injured or otherwise unable to care for themselves without assistance. 

This guide to elder care planning & family meetings can help you prepare for and approach the topic of end-of-life care and other difficult subjects with sensitivity and love. 

Essentials of Elder Care Planning

What is an Elder Care Plan? It is a way to help older adults, as they continue to age, to enjoy the best possible health and well being. An elder care plan (also referred to as a geriatric care plan) encompasses subjects such as estate planning, long-term care planning, wishes for life-sustaining treatment (an advance directive) and other end-of-life issues. It is a way for adult children and other family caregivers to coordinate with each other and to ensure that their loved one’s wishes are respected and their needs are met. In short, it is a plan for providing the greatest possible quality of life for an elderly adult. 

Prepare Your Team

The most important member of an elder care planning team is the elderly person in question! No decision should be made without this person’s knowledge or consent! And any shared decision-making should be made with a clear understanding of your loved one’s goals and wishes for the future. Of course, if the patient has Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, or is otherwise incapacitated, they will not be able to fully participate. This is why the earlier, the better, with regard to making a care plan.

Other members of the team can include any family members or close friends who need or wish to be involved. It is helpful to have one “point” person to coordinate discussions and facilitate communication. It may also be appropriate to involve an elder law attorney and/or a geriatric care manager or licensed social worker. 

Assess Needs

An effective plan begins with an assessment of needs. The AARP has an excellent elder care planning guide including a chart for assessing needs in the following areas:

Home Maintenance and Living Situation 

  • Paying rent/mortgage 
  • Home repairs
  • Ongoing maintenance 
  • Safety concerns 
  • Accessibility for disabilities
  • Grocery shopping & meal preparation
  • Lawn care
  • Pet care
  • Housekeeping

Financial Affairs

  • Paying bills
  • Keeping track of financial records
  • Supervising public benefits programs, etc.

Transportation Needs

  • Driving decisions
  • Coordinating rides

Personal Care

  • Organization of family and professional care providers
  • Rides to hairstylist
  • Help with bathing

Health Care 

  • Make, accompany, drive or make alternate logistic arrangements for doctor’s appointments 
  • Submit medical insurance and bills
  • Explain medical decisions

Communications

  • Keeping family caregiving team informed 
  • Coordinating visits

Adaptive Devices

  • Ordering, maintaining, and paying for adaptive devices (e.g., wheelchair, walker, etc.)

This is not an exhaustive list of possible needs, but it is a great way to get started. Which of these needs can your loved one still take care of on their own? What can friends and family help with, and where might hired help to be needed? 

Gather Information

You’ll need to gather information in two categories: Personal information and resources

Personal information would include everything from the important documents such as a birth certificate and passport, to the mundane details of the utility bills. Gather a master list of documents (note where originals are kept, and attach copies). 

Here is a list to get you started:

  • Birth certificate
  • Social security card
  • Marriage certificate
  • Death certificate for the deceased spouse
  • Military records
  • Driver’s license/organ donor card
  • Passport
  • Will & Trusts
  • Information on cemetery plots and funeral & burial instructions
  • Durable Power of Attorney (for finances)
  • Advance directives: Living Will and Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care
  • Insurance policies: Life, Health (including Medicare/Medicaid), Disability, Long-Term Care
  • Banking & safety deposit box
  • Mortgage or rental details; Homeowners/renters insurance
  • Medical information: medical conditions, doctors, prescriptions, etc.
  • Address books; church & community memberships and contact information
  • Utility bills: electricity, gas, cable/internet, phone

Resources include any national and local resources that are available to support the elderly and their caregivers—everything from social security and other public benefit programs to local charities that offer services. A good place to start is with Eldercare Locator, a public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging connecting you to services for older adults and their families. You will find links for more information about insurance, housing, transportation, and many other services and benefits. 

Make a Plan

Once you have gathered your team, you can begin planning. 

Setting up the Family Meeting

Choose a setting, date and time that will accommodate all team members–you can take advantage of technology such as phone or video conferencing for those who can’t attend in person.

Ideally, you will have already assessed your loved one’s needs and gathered all the necessary information, but you could also do this together with others. As long as there is a team leader, the assessment of various needs and gathering of information can be delegated. It would be helpful, for example, to have one sibling in charge of “Finances” and others in charge of “Health,” “Home Maintenance,” etc. 

If needed, you can consider including a professional such as a geriatric care manager. This would be especially helpful in families where there is contention or disagreement regarding your loved one’s care. 

Tips for a Successful Family Meeting

  • Keep the conversation open and honest, and encourage participation from everyone involved. 
  • Although there should be a family team leader, all members of the team should be heard and respected. 
  • Remember that the elderly person in question should have the ultimate say in the discussion and the plan for his or her future! 
  • Make sure that there is an agenda and put the most pressing issues first. Organize your plan in any way that makes sense for your family, but as suggested above, it is often easiest to go by general topic (Finances, Health, etc.). 
  • End each meeting on a positive note, and if possible, plan for a fun and relaxing activity after the meeting.
  • The plan does not have to be formal or fancy, but it should absolutely be written down! That way all members of the team have a record of what was decided and of what their individual responsibilities are. 
  • Keep the team updated and involved! Email updates, a weekly phone call, a monthly meeting… whatever works best for your family situation.

As with any plan, it will be necessary to re-evaluate and edit the Elder Care Plan as circumstances change. The willingness to have the conversation and the concern and care for your elderly loved one, are the essential first steps to a happy and purposeful future!