Q: My elderly mom is still living independently in her own home, but it's clear that she'll soon be unable to handle her finances and other business matters on her own. My siblings and I need to begin preparing for what's to come. Do you have any suggestions?
Jim: You're wise to begin thinking about this while your mother is still able to participate in the process of providing for her own future. First, make sure that she is comfortable sharing personal information with you. If not, you may need to consider using a financial adviser, accountant or attorney as a neutral third party to facilitate the necessary discussions about her finances.
Once you have the go-ahead, help your mom calculate the total value of all her assets (savings, investments, real estate, etc.). Then ask questions about her monthly spending. Can she eliminate any expenses? Are there other sources of money available (e.g., cashing in a life-insurance policy, selling items or properties)? What about health coverage? Does your mom have Medicare or Medicaid and any supplemental insurance coverage?
It's also crucial to determine whether she has the means to continue supporting herself at her current standard of living. For this to be possible, the average retiree today has to provide about 60 percent of her living expenses while Social Security pays for the rest. If investments are a major part of her retirement income, and you're not comfortable addressing that area yourself, get referrals from friends and look for a reputable financial adviser with integrity and a good track record.
To find local professional agencies that can help you and your mother resolve financial matters, contact the Eldercare Locator, a free, nationwide directory assistance service. The toll-free number is 1-800-677-1116; the website is www.eldercare.gov. For state and county organizations, check the phone book or visit the website for the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (www.n4a.org).
Finally, if you have relationship concerns and challenges associated with this situation, please don't hesitate to give our Counseling Department a call at 800-A-FAMILY (232-6459).
Q: Our 8-year-old daughter begged to start gymnastics lessons, and we paid several hundred dollars for an eight-week course. But after two weeks, her muscles are sore and she realizes it's harder than she thought. She wants to quit. Should we let her bail out or make her continue for another six weeks?
Danny Huerta, Vice President, Parenting and Youth: The answer will depend on your child and her track record. If she has a habit of making enthusiastic false starts but rarely bringing any project to completion, she'll probably benefit from the experience of struggling to complete the course she started. This "reality therapy" will be especially important if you funded the classes after she promised to finish them. In this case, the issue is being true to her word, rather than the classes themselves or the cost. Through perseverance, she might even come to love the challenge and thrive on it going forward.
If she has been consistently involved in other long-term activities but is clearly just miserable in this one, you may want to let her quietly retire. Make sure the problem isn't a mismatch of your child and a certain coach or program, or perhaps a mistaken entry into a group that is too advanced. At times a change of venue, trainer or team can make a significant difference -- especially when the new environment emphasizes positive encouragement.
Either way, if this activity proves to be a dead end, don't berate her for it. Allowing her to maintain her dignity will accomplish far more than any trophy on the family shelf. And the experience can be a teachable point moving forward.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
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