Dear Helaine: My brother and I are trying to figure out how to support my dad and my stepmom, who only have a small income from Social Security. Her daughter and grandchild live with them, but my stepsister doesn't have much money either. She's barely earning minimum wage.
We want to help, but we don't want to be intrusive. We tried to pay to get their air-conditioning fixed, but they got a friend to do it, even though we were going to call a company and pay. They need the front walk boards replaced because they are a hazard, and my dad is in his 80s. My stepsister said she'll take care of it, but, as I said, she doesn't have much. If she did, she wouldn't be living with my dad and her mom.
We want to ease things and get important stuff done but not make them feel bad. What would you do? -- Hoping to Help
Dear Hoping to Help: It's hard to help elderly parents with their finances. They want to see themselves as independent -- which they are -- and just about the last thing they want to admit is that they need aid. It goes beyond money. Few will admit to their children that their health or stamina is fading and that they now need assistance with the tasks of daily living. Our parents still see themselves as the ones who are supposed to be helping us!
So how do you offer an assist in such a way that they will actually take it? I would reach out to the local senior center and find out what resources are available to help the community's low-income elderly with medical, food and housing expenses. It's possible there are programs to pay for replacing the walk boards and other things that will need to be done so they can age in place.
You also need to include your stepsister in the discussions. She is living with your dad and her mom and can probably give you a better sense of what the most urgent needs are than you get on your visits. Remember, you might have extra money to give them, but she's giving her time to them in exchange for a place to live.
Then all three of you -- you, your brother and your stepsister -- can sit down with your dad and stepmom and offer ways to help, from utilizing friends and neighbors like they did when fixing the broken air conditioner, to out-and-out financial assistance. If your dad and stepmom feel like you are all having a conversation with them instead of dictating what you think they should do, it's more likely they will be receptive to accepting at least some help.
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