Talking about finances can be a sensitive subject — especially with family members. But if you’ve noticed a change in your aging parent’s mobility, independence, or cognitive function, it may be time to begin discussing senior care options. With that comes the conversation about how to pay for senior care.

A multi-generational family sits around a table for a meal. They smile and the grandfather makes a toast.

If you and your family are in this situation or think you may be soon, here are a few tips for having the conversation and figuring out how to pay for senior care.

Identify who should be involved in the conversation

Before starting a discussion about family financial planning, figure out who should be part of the conversation. For instance, it may help to invite all adult children of the aging parents to participate in the discussion and discuss how they can contribute to care. If having another person present could help, you might consider agreeing upon a close family friend or another type of mediator to facilitate the conversation.

You may also need to eventually involve relevant professionals, such as an eldercare law attorney, the parent’s health care provider, or a financial planner. While these professionals may not be necessary for the initial conversation, you may need them when planning your parent’s estate, getting advice on their health, or planning to finance care. 

Tips for the discussion

Now that you’ve figured out who to involve, it’s time to have the chat. Here are some tips that can help you approach your family members as well as tips for the discussion itself:

Plan the discussion with the family in advance

Let your family members and parents know the topics you’d like to discuss with them before everyone gets together. Gauge their interest in advance so you’re not springing the conversation on them. This also allows everyone to bring some relevant research to the discussion.

Explain your intentions upfront

Before beginning the conversation, let your parents know you are facilitating it for their benefit. Mention that you’d like to ensure they have everything they need as they age. 

Ask your parents for their input

Take care to listen to your parent’s desires for their care and always consider their feelings and emotions. If they seem unswayed by your concerns, consider suggesting the parent talk with their healthcare or financial professional for third-party insights from which everyone can learn. 

Express empathy and patience while talking

Above all, ensure you practice kindness and patience with everyone involved in the discussion. If your siblings have differing opinions, give everyone a chance to express their feelings and devise solutions that can work for everyone involved. As part of the preparation, each person could jot down a few thoughts or priorities to refer to the list, and this may help the conversation continue to move forward.

Decide the topics to address

Talking about how to pay for senior care is a multi-step process. Addressing these topics in the order below can help you figure out the financial aspect of getting your parent the care they need.

Level of senior care the parent needs

One of the first steps in figuring out how to pay for senior care is to know what kind of care the parent needs. There are many types and levels of senior care, so you may be new to this and not know where to start. Begin by asking some of these discussion-starting questions to determine what care the parent may need:

  • What household tasks are more challenging than they used to be? (Examples: Doing the laundry, vacuuming or mopping the floors, preparing meals, mowing the lawn)
  • Are there any activities that are more challenging now? (Examples: Driving, grocery shopping, paying bills on time)
  • What personal care tasks are more challenging to do safely? (Examples: Bathing, getting dressed, using the bathroom, moving throughout the house — this could mean transferring between the bed and a chair, walking up or down stairs, getting out of bed at night to use the bathroom, etc.)

Identifying the type of care a parent needs may not be a one-and-done conversation. These questions may start the discussion that you continue as a family to figure out what level of care is best. If you can’t come to an immediate decision about these questions, you can ask your parent to keep them in mind for a week or so, then return to the discussion in person, over the phone, or on a group family video call. 

Even when you have the answers to these questions, knowing what type of senior care is best for your parent can be challenging. Does the parent need to move to a facility, or should they have in-home care? You can research care facilities or work with a care placement expert to determine the proper senior care.

Cost of senior care

Multiple factors influence the cost of senior care. For example, the type of senior living community or care arrangement is a factor. Residential environments like independent living communities, assisted living facilities, and nursing homes vary in cost because they have a range of services and amenities. Home care services also range in scope and costs if the parent chooses to age in place and remain at home.

The cost of the care will greatly depend on the level of care the parent needs because that heavily influences the type of senior living community or home care they need. The cost of 24-hour care will differ from periodic home care services.

Where you live also influences the cost of senior care, and average prices vary from state to state. For example, Virginia has a lower-than-average cost of senior care, while Florida residents typically pay more than the national average for senior care. These costs also vary among cities within states, depending on the area.

Options for paying for senior care

Discussing finances with family members can be sensitive, but it’s necessary. It will be helpful to learn if the parent has retirement savings or other personal means to finance the cost of care. If so, what types of accounts do they have? How much funding do they have available? Are there limits to how much they can withdraw each month or year? 

If the parent has limited means, there are still many options to pay for senior care. You might suggest that everyone come to the conversation with research on financial resources available to help fund senior care.

 A few options include:

  • Selling the family home. If the parent is moving to a senior living community, selling the house they lived in can provide funding to pay for care.
  • Taking out a bridge loan. If the parent needs to move to a facility immediately, a bridge loan is a short-term loan that can help pay move-in expenses while you wait for other funding, like the sale of their home, to become available.
  • Obtaining a personal loan. You can use various types of personal loans to cover your parent’s senior care expenses. Evaluate which is most feasible for your family’s situation.
  • Using the parent’s long-term care insurance. Long-term care insurance covers various senior care services for older adults. If your parent has this type of insurance, you may be able to make a claim on it to help cover the costs of home care or other residential care settings.
  • Access veterans benefits. If the parent who needs care is a veteran or the spouse of a veteran, they may qualify for certain VA benefits that help pay for senior care, such as the Aid and Attendance benefit. If the person who needs care meets specific military service, health, and income criteria, the benefit can provide over $2,000 per month of supplemental income. 
  • Using the parent’s life insurance policy. Some life insurance policies can be sold, and you can use the money to help pay for their care. Talk to the insurance policy provider to see what the options are.

The bottom line

It is critical to ensure that older adults have the care they need to live comfortably and safely. Approaching the conversation with the right people involved, shared empathy and patience, and thorough research can help start the conversation. Senior care financial experts exist to help simplify this process so you and your family are not alone.