Your Investments:Dealing with elderly parents? Learn from the lulav

It’s sometimes difficult for families to retain harmony and still provide the necessary care needed for their parents.

money (photo credit: REUTERS)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Older people are a rapidly growing proportion of the world’s population Before writing this column I needed to take a break and decided to take a quick walk on Jaffa Road in the center of Jerusalem. If I had any doubt what time of the year it is, I could tell just by the amount of tourists out and about that it’s time for the Sukkot holiday.
I had to make an effort to find any Hebrew speakers. It was as if the official language of downtown Jerusalem had suddenly switched to English! A central element of the Sukkot holiday is unity. We take the lulav (palm branch) along with three other species and hold them together as one unit as we make the blessing and shake them.
During both the First and Second Temple periods, every seven years the entire nation – men, women, and children – came together for the Hakel ceremony in order to increase Torah observance and study, and foster the fear of God. In many ways this was the ultimate expression of national unity.
Often during both Passover and Sukkot, children who are in Israel visiting their elderly parents call me to speak about how to manage their parents’ finances. As life expectancy continues to increase, the burden of both financially and physically caring for aging parents is one of the most important and pressing issues for adult children that exists today.
Throw into the mix that often children are spread out all over the world, and I often see families torn apart by this responsibility.
Just to complicate matters, the trend of many brokerage firms to discontinue servicing accounts of US citizens living abroad makes it even more challenging than ever before.
It’s sometimes difficult for families to retain harmony and still provide the necessary care needed for their parents.
Managing family finances is often carried out between spouses, but what happens when children have to start taking control of their parent’s situation? There is no “right” method for success. No two families are alike and each family needs to understand its own dynamic.
The goal should be to limit the amount of family discord, while providing the greatest quality of financial oversight.
The most common case I see is where there is one child living in Israel and the rest of the siblings still live abroad. The elderly parents then decide to make aliya with Nefesh B’nefesh.
The siblings come to consult on a financial plan for the parents. We discuss the assets, the basic income requirements, and health-related expenses. The sibling living here accepts the burden of physically caring for the parent, and all of the siblings plan on jointly handling the money. Then, they all return to their various homes. Here comes trouble! Since the rest of the siblings are far away, they begin to lose touch with the day-to-day issues involved in caring for their parent. But when it comes to financial decisions, they are all supremely confident that their opinion is correct. The child actually caring for the parent, on the other hand, though no money wiz, is the one who has to pay all the parent’s bills.
There is often an incredible disconnect between them in terms of financial priorities. They all seem to have their own agendas.
Furthermore, each sibling doesn’t want to burden the other, so they call the adviser(s) with minor details. The lack of clear communication between the siblings themselves and with their parents makes for a tricky situation.
Siblings need to communicate with each other, and should definitely consult with an adviser if they need help in creating a financial plan. Often it takes an objective third party to smooth out emotional flashpoints and maintain family unity.
A financial adviser can develop a plan for an elderly parent in consultation with the responsible sibling, and then can invite the rest of the siblings to hear the proposal. Everyone can learn the details, ask questions, and understand the greater picture, without one sibling appearing too domineering or pushy.
Assuming control of your parent’s financial responsibilities can be emotionally draining and time consuming and can tear apart even the best families. Having a concrete plan as to what needs to be done, and who should do it, can help mitigate some of the emotional energy.
Siblings should be prepared to consult with one another and assign specific duties to all the family members according to their individual abilities. With some smart planning, each family can make it through this process unified.
Chag Sameach!
Aaron Katsman is author of the book Retirement GPS: How to Navigate Your Way to A Secure Financial Future with Global Investing (McGraw-Hill), and is a licensed financial professional both in the United States and Israel. For more information, call (02) 624-0995, visit or email aaron@lighthousecapital.