What should I do if one of my parents needs care?

25th June 2021

If you’re concerned about arranging and paying for care for an elderly relative, having a step-by-step plan in place – and seeking financial advice – can help to take the stress away.

At a glance

  • Having a parent who needs long-term care can be very stressful, and people often don’t know where to turn for support.
  • Our recommendation is to follow a five-step plan, which takes you from acknowledging the need for care through to your parent’s specific requirements and how to manage care-home costs.
  • Seeking financial advice from someone who specialises in later-life needs can be extremely advantageous in helping you to assess all the options and find the best solution for your parent.

“If you have a parent who might need some form of long-term care, the chances are you won’t be sure where to turn for guidance, while at the same time you’ll be feeling a wide range of emotions,” says Ros Clarke, a Long-Term Care Consultant at St. James’s Place.

The best way to manage the situation, she says, is to acknowledge it as early as possible and then have a step-by-step plan in place. Here’s what Ros and her colleague, Tony Clark, Senior Propositions Manager at St. James’s Place, recommend:

Step 1: identify the need for care

This can often be a difficult conversation to have with your parent, says Tony, particularly as there might be concerns about what will happen next and worries around paying for a care home or in-home care. This problem can be heightened as many people are shocked to find out that state funding for long-term social care is extremely limited.

“If you can recognise a need for care as soon as possible, the journey is usually so much easier,” says Ros. “You’ll have the time to make choices and investigate your options without too much pressure.”

Now is also a good time to speak to a financial adviser, especially one who is trained in later-life needs, as many St. James’s Place Partners are. Thanks to our relationship with Care Sourcer, which has extensive knowledge of the UK’s care systems, we will be able to guide you expertly through all the steps that follow.

Step 2: assess your parent’s needs

The best way to do this is to have a care-needs assessment, which is carried out by the social-services department of your local council. The main purpose is to establish exactly what support your parent needs, which then allows you to choose the right kind of care. You can sit in on the assessment and help your parent to answer the questions as accurately as possible.

“A lot of people who will be funding their own care skip this step,” says Ros. “But it’s always helpful so you really understand the care needs your parent has. Also, people who don’t do it might find they miss out on discovering some of the extra support that’s available, such as voluntary groups in the area or NHS continuing healthcare.”

Step 3: understand the care options available

Needing care doesn’t always mean moving to a care home, Tony explains, as a lot of people are able to receive support in their own home, allowing them to stay put. This minimises upheaval, and if your parent is funding their own support, the cost of in-home care can be significantly lower than the cost of residential care.

It’s also important to think about how your parent’s needs might change in the future and what the financial implications of that may be. “For example, you might decide to start with care in your parent’s own home for a few hours a day,” says Tony. “But you might also recognise that in a few years’ time, they may need to move to a residential home, which will ramp up the cost. That kind of thinking helps you to plan ahead and hopefully avoid a financial shock.”

Step 4: find the right kind of care

Once you are clear on your parent’s needs and options, you can start to find the right solution for them.

The Care Concierge service from Care Sourcer, available through St. James’s Place, can be particularly helpful with this step (as well as the previous ones), says Ros. “You can talk to them about the options available and what will be best for your parent. They can also help with access to local-authority services and do things like liaising with hospital discharge teams, which can be complex and hard work if you don’t understand the system properly. This can really help to take the pressure off at a stressful time.”

Step 5: paying for care

What your local authority will pay towards your parent’s care is calculated by a means test.

If your parent has more than £23,250 in savings and assets in England and Northern Ireland, more than £28,750 in Scotland or more than £50,000 in Wales, and they don’t qualify for any NHS support, they will not be entitled to any financial help in paying for their care. What’s more, if they are moving to residential care, the value of their house will be included in the assessment (unless a spouse or dependant will remain in their property).

As these threshold figures are very low, most people need to fund some or all of their care costs. In addition, if your parent is reliant on local-authority funding, you might want to help them financially by topping that up to pay for some enhanced options – such as a better care home, a larger room or additional hours of in-home care.

“Financial advice is vital at this point,” says Tony. “You’re likely to be very emotionally involved, but trying to make big decisions about things like this is difficult at the best of times. An adviser will be one step removed and can take the emotion out of it. They’ll be able to look at the bigger picture for the whole family and help you assess your options.”

They could also advise you on possibilities you may not have considered, he adds, such as an immediate-needs annuity, which guarantees your parent’s care-home fees are paid for life and can also have some tax advantages.

One more important step: arrange a power of attorney

At the earliest possible stage – or, in fact, at any point in your adult life – it’s a good idea to set up a power of attorney (PoA). This allows someone you trust to make financial and healthcare decisions on your behalf if you’re not able to. If you don’t have a PoA in place, things can get very complicated, stressful and expensive if your parent becomes incapable of managing their own affairs. Again, your financial adviser can help with this.

Finally, remember you’re not alone

“Throughout this difficult time, anxiety levels can go through the roof, and you can feel very lonely,” says Tony. “It’s important to talk to the people who are there to help you. You don’t have to go it alone. Help is out there, so make sure you use it.”

The services provided by Care Sourcer are separate and distinct to those offered by St. James’s Place.

Powers of Attorney involve the referral to a service that is separate and distinct to those offered by St. James’s Place. Powers of Attorney are not regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.