In our experience, as many individuals age they focus on their retirement planning and ensuring that they have enough funds invested to support their desired lifestyle throughout their retirement. Additionally, they will often seek out a legal professional to ensure they have updated wills, powers of attorney, and medical directives. Another part of this is updating beneficiaries and contingent beneficiaries on registered accounts. However, what happens in between the date of retirement and the date of passing can often be left un-planned.
Planning for your own care, or the care of loved ones, is an important part of the caregiving and planning process. Most of us will find ourselves in a position where we will need a caregiver at some point in our lives. It is important to plan out what that will look like. Who will be primarily responsible for your care? Do you have family or friends in proximity who can assume this role?
On the other side, many of us will find ourselves in a role where we are acting as caregiver. If possible, it is incredibly helpful to plan what that will look like for you, and the person you will be caring for. Having a strong plan in place can also help to eliminate some of the fear and anxiety of dealing with our own vulnerabilities and mortality. Quite often people find themselves in the role of caregiver suddenly and unexpectedly. Where possible, we recommend taking a proactive approach and having those open, honest, and often-difficult conversations with those you will be providing care for, before the care is needed. Not only can this help one another to understand, set expectations, establish ground rules and healthy boundaries, but it can further build the most important component of the caregiving relationship: trust.
Care plan conversations
When first sitting down to develop a care plan, there are many areas to cover. We recommend involving all family members who will be involved in the day-to-day care, and who would like to participate. In these meetings, everyone should be open to hearing what others have to say, and be able to voice their own thoughts. Taking notes of the main points and action items is also strongly encouraged as it can help bring the care plan to life and ensure that no key priorities or items are missed.
The main discussion point that will navigate where the rest of the conversation flows to is whether the individual wants to stay in their home for as long as possible. There are many factors that will determine how long you or your loved ones will be able to remain in their home. Although an individual may appear to be physically able to live on their own, it’s important to ensure they have the mental capacity to do so. The event of mental incapacity is important to address in the care plan. If an individual forgets to lock the door, close the windows, or shut off the stove or water, then they unknowingly become a danger to themselves and the level of care they require increases.
Other limitations surround the level of care that can be provided in the home due to its layout and cost. Although assisted living facilities can be costly, there are many costs associated with staying in the home, such as: home alterations to improve accessibility, in-home health care (periodic, or live-in), interior and exterior maintenance, repairs and cleaning services, medical treatments, wheelchairs or other mobility devices, special vehicles to accommodate disabilities, groceries or meal preparation services, as well as standard expenses such as utilities, insurance, property taxes (unless otherwise deferring paying your property taxes). As you can imagine, these costs add up. If you have the means, these costs should not deter you from remaining in your home for as long as possible, but rather are important to factor in care plan discussions.
If the plan is to live in the home as long as possible, the conversation naturally flows to how will that in-home care be provided. Will a family member become the caregiver, or will a caregiver be hired to help periodically and transition to a live-in caregiver when the time comes? When the individual is no longer able to live in their home, will they move in with a family member, or go into an assisted living facility?
We always recommend planning for the most likely outcome. When it comes to health and aging, life can often throw curve balls at us. It can be a good idea to also set up a contingency care plan in place. For example, if one family member is going to be the primary caregiver, but for any number of reasons they are no longer able to provide that care, then devising a back-up plan is important. While setting up a care plan is not a legally binding document, we recommend having these conversations and agreeing on a course of action while the individual still has capacity. This way everyone can be at ease knowing they are caring for their loved one in accordance with their wishes.
While we hope the above conversations will take place, the transition from being completely self-sufficient to requiring some assistance may be met with varying degrees of resistance (understandably so). For some, they do not want to involve family or friends at all, or burden them with their care, no matter how willing the family and friends are to help. Discussing one’s mortality is not a pleasant subject, and many wish to avoid discussing it altogether. We frequently encounter those who may not be able to see their own signs of physical or mental decline. In these cases, recommending your loved ones seek help from an external resource can be in incredibly helpful.
British Columbia 2-1-1
British Columbia has a non-profit society, “BC211” which provides a dedicated free and confidential hotline that is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Simply call or text 2-1-1 to access individuals who can connect you to local services, resources, and support based on your needs. They have a dedicated section for older adults with categories such as transportation, social and recreation, meals, housing, home support, dementia, day programs, elder abuse, and health conditions. If you are not yet ready to discuss your care plan with your loved ones, this can be a great resource to first explore. It’s completely confidential and it can connect you with the resources you need.
Home safety assessment
As you, or your loved ones, age it is a good idea to perform a home safety assessment. By conducting such an assessment, potential hazards and safety improvements can be identified. After this, steps can be taken to eliminate the hazards to keep the home as safe as possible. Performing a home safety assessment can be conducted yourself. The goal is to inspect the whole house. While this may seem daunting at first, it’s best if it’s broken-down room by room. The province of British Columbia has developed a home safety checklist to help with fall prevention which can be found at the following link: Home Safety Checklist. At the bottom page are some links to other helpful resources.
The role of caregiver
While caregiving is a significant responsibility, it is also an honour. As a caregiver, you provide both physical and emotional care, are there to assist with the regular day-to-day activities, and manage their financial affairs. The transition from purely a family member or friend to caregiver can be a challenging one to navigate; however, with proactive planning and open conversations, you and your loved ones can be at ease knowing they will receive the love and support likely needed as they age.
Canada caregiver credit
Providing care to loved ones will come at a financial cost, but the benefits of knowing your loved ones are happy, safe and well-looked-after far outweigh this. To help with the additional cost of providing care for an aging parent or relative, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has developed the Canada caregiver credit (CCC). You may be eligible to claim the CCC of up to $2,295 in the calculation of line 30400 and up to $7,348 on line 30425. You are eligible if you provide support to your parent, grandparent, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, niece or nephew as a result of their mental or physical infirmity (so long as they resided in Canada at any point during the taxation year). The CRA defines an individual to be dependent on you for support if you regularly and consistently provide them with some, or all, basic life necessities, such as food, shelter, and clothing. To claim this credit, you may require a doctor’s note confirming their condition, unless the CRA has already approved the T2201 - disability tax certificate. The amount of the dependent’s net income will also reduce the amount that you are able to claim.
Kevin Greenard CPA CA FMA CFP CIM is a Senior Wealth Advisor and Portfolio Manager, Wealth Management with The Greenard Group at Scotia Wealth Management in Victoria. His column appears every week at timescolonist.com. Call 250-389-2138, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit greenardgroup.com.