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When a long-time family friend suddenly became ill and needed her son to step in as a caregiver, Jane Olshewski saw it as a good opportunity to talk to her own aging parents about their future.

Ms. Olshewski, a financial life-planning expert with Investors Group, used the incident to explain to her parents the importance of having the proper legal documents - a will, power of attorney and health care directive - in place in the event of a sudden health crisis.

"Had their friend not had these documents in place, their son would have had to go through some hoops through the provincial government in order to get that ability to make these kinds of transactions on his mother's behalf. So that was my segue," Ms. Olshewski says.

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"The main point that I think is important is for people to recognize is that caregiving may be a possibility in their future," Ms. Olshewski says. "The key is to actually have the talk with your parents before a crisis occurs."

Jane Olshewski, a financial life planning expert with Investors Group, recommends taking the following steps to prepare for a caregiving role:

1. Have "the talk" with aging parents. Make sure your family has a plan in the event that your parents can no longer care for themselves. Who will provide their care and who will pay for it? Know your parents' financial situation and get the issue out in the open before a crisis occurs.

2. Get it in writing. Your parents need more than a will. They need to grant power of attorney and have a health care directive in order for you to step in and take control of their financial transactions and health care. Make sure these documents are up to date.

3. Avoid a paper chase. Find out where important documents are located. Where do your parents keep their wills? Where are their banking and investment accounts and do they have a safety deposit box? Also, find out how to contact your parents' advisers: their lawyer, insurance agent, banker or financial adviser. Get these details in writing.

4. Prepare yourself financially. As a caregiver, you may incur expenses for such things as transportation, medical supplies, even home renovations to accommodate an elderly parent. If you need to pay for a room in a nursing home or retirement residence, the costs can range from $17,630 to $55,836 a year, according to a survey by TakingCare Inc. Think about how you could budget for such costs and where you may be able to trim your expenses.

5. Learn about tax credits. Financial help is available in the form of tax credits. Your parent may be eligible to claim medical expenses and the federal disability amount, both of which can be transferred to a caregiver if not fully used. In addition, you may be able to claim the caregiver amount, which tops out at $4,198 for each dependant.

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6. Investigate long-term care insurance. Long-term care insurance can provide money for such things as home alterations, prescriptions, home care and medical care, both inside and outside a care facility. Not everyone will qualify for coverage, and insurers will consider the age and health of applicants, which can sometimes push the premiums beyond what is cost-effective for aging parents. Getting such coverage for yourself, however, can help reduce the burden on your own children if they become your caregivers.



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