Family and Finances: How to Help Aging Parents Stay in Control

Contributed by: Sandra Adams, CFP® Sandy Adams

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I recently attended my daughter’s college orientation.  During one of the presentations to parents, the speaker said something that struck a chord with me:

“As hard as it may be, it is time for you as parents to let go of the reigns and give your children control of their own lives. Let them take care of things for themselves and make their own decisions. This may mean that they make some mistakes, but this is the time for them to learn.” 

Wow!  Did that hit home!  How hard is it as a parent to let go and let your child start doing things for themselves when you have been doing things for them for the last 17 – 18 years?  But isn’t this what your child has been waiting for?  To be an adult and to have control over his or her own life?  Isn’t that what we all wait for?

Why Control Matters at Any Age

As I sat and thought about the issue of control a bit more, I began to think about the older adult clients that I work with and about how hard they fight to keep control over their lives as they age.  I thought about the adult children of those clients who often feel as if, at some point, they may have to take away that control if the older adult losses the capacity to maintain control for themselves.  It can be particularly stressful for adult children to be put in a situation of needing to take over “control” for their aging parents without having a clear idea of their parents’ desires for their lives as they age.  So, what can be done to avoid this potential situation?

  • Have open and honest conversations about the older adult’s plans for their future aging life; this may include a family meeting (tips here on having your own) that is led by your financial planner to include conversations about financial assets and how longer term care planning and future housing options might be funded.
  • Make sure that all of the proper estate planning documents are up-to-date and that they are accessible (consider keeping copies on file with your financial planner’s office, as well).  Particularly important are Durable Power of Attorney Documents for General/Financial and Health Care/Patient Advocate.
  • Ensure that all wishes and plans for the future are documented in writing.  Also make sure to have your financial affairs organized and documented.  Our Personal Financial Record Keeping System & Letter of Last Instruction is one helpful tool you can use.

Control is something we all want to have over our own lives … and something we fight to keep.  As parents of young adults, we struggle to let go of the control for fear that our children might take a few falls.  At the same time, we might be struggling with the thought of having to take control from aging parents who might be struggling with capacity issues as they age.  But, if you’ve planned ahead and helped your parents communicate their wishes, you won’t have taken their control from them at all. Instead, you will be assisting them in carrying out their own well-designed future.

Sandra Adams, CFP® is a Partner and Financial Planner at Center for Financial Planning, Inc. Sandy specializes in Elder Care Financial Planning and is a frequent speaker on related topics. In 2012-2014 Sandy has been named to the Five Star Wealth Managers list in Detroit Hour magazine. In addition to her frequent contributions to Money Centered, she is regularly quoted in national media publications such as The Wall Street Journal, Research Magazine and Journal of Financial Planning.


Five Star Award is based on advisor being credentialed as an investment advisory representative (IAR), a FINRA registered representative, a CPA or a licensed attorney, including education and professional designations, actively employed in the industry for five years, favorable regulatory and complaint history review, fulfillment of firm review based on internal firm standards, accepting new clients, one- and five-year client retention rates, non-institutional discretionary and/or non-discretionary client assets administered, number of client households served.

This material is being provided for information purposes only and is not a complete description, nor is it a recommendation. Any opinions are those of Sandy Adams, CFP® and not necessarily those of Raymond James. The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but Raymond James does not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. You should discuss any legal matters with the appropriate professional.