According to the New York Times, “an estimated 38 million Americans provide care to an aging relative.” With numbers like this you would think this would be a frequent topic of conversation within families, but this is rarely the case. Unfortunately, because we tend to avoid the uncomfortable subject of our parents aging, most families are unprepared when mom or dad begins to need help (either physical or financial). But denial can’t stop the inevitable from happening; it only means that you and your siblings will be unprepared when the time does come to care for mom or dad.

What this article in the New York Times stresses is the importance of planning as a family. Parents may think that by keeping their troubles to themselves they’re saving their children stress and heartache, but evidence shows that sons and daughters do end up shouldering part of the burden—financially, physically and emotionally. It stands to reason that if they’re going to share responsibility, these responsible children should have some part in the planning process as well.

The Times article offers some suggestions on how to discuss the issue of aging with your parents and your siblings, and how to prepare for the future together, including how to:

  • Open the conversation with your parents and siblings.
  • Assess financial conditions and options—including Medicare.
  • Learn about care options and their costs.

Don’t wait to have this conversation. As financial gerontologist Rosanne Roge is quoted as saying, “The most important thing is to recognize that it’s likely that elders who live a long time are going to need some help… and you have to pay for it some of the time.” The best time to prepare is now.