How do we help our parents as they age? For adults with non-LGBT parents, there are plenty of resources on how to help parents through the various legal, financial, and emotional issues of growing old. Search the web or your favorite online bookstore for "aging parents," and you’ll be swamped with results.
For adults who wish to help their LGBT parents, however, the resources are far fewer. And while many of the issues older LGBT and non-LGBT people face are the same, some are not.
Let’s not forget: LGBT parents have been choosing to have children together for over 30 years. Those who had children in previous non-LGBT relationships may have had them even before that. Those "children" now in their 30s or older have parents who, if not in their "golden years," are at least starting to turn silver.
Scott French, program manager for the Caring and Preparing program of Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE), said one of the most important things adults with LGBT parents can do is "to have conversations about making sure that your parents have a health-care proxy, a power of attorney, a living will," and a document (called by various names) about what they want done with their bodies after death.
"These are important for everyone, but they’re really important for LGBT older adults, especially if they’re partnered," he said. Unlike opposite-sex spouses, "there is no person who automatically gets to make those decisions" for LGBT older adults.
He also encourages people to talk with their parents about a will. Many people think they don’t need a will if they aren’t wealthy, French said, but noted, "Wills aren’t predicated on somebody who has wealth. They’re essential to be able to dictate what you want to happen to your possessions, whatever they may be." And for people in same-sex couples, "you don’t always have the same protections, so it’s always better to have it in writing."
Children of LGBT parents should also discuss with their parents how the finances will be distributed in the will and whose name they are in now, he said. He suggested talking with a lawyer and/or a financial planner "to ensure that if they’re partnered, the surviving partner is taken care of, because inheritance rules oftentimes don’t apply." Pensions and other items that naturally transfer to an opposite-sex spouse may not transfer to a same-sex one, or may not do so without a financial penalty, even if they are legally married or have a civil union or domestic partnership. Attorneys and financial planners may be able to set up trusts or recommend various other strategies to protect assets and avoid taxes.
SAGE encourages people to complete the above documentation even if they are legally married or in a civil union or domestic partnership. French explained, "You never know what you might run into or if you’ll run into a service provider who isn’t aware of what the laws are."
He noted, however, that many people "are very unprepared," even though most of the documents are "very simple." All except for a will "can be done without a lawyer," although some may still need notarization.
Another big concern for the elderly is long-term care, which could include nursing homes, in-home care, or other care options with varying levels of assistance. For those with LGBT parents, French said, "I think the biggest concern is fear of discrimination."
He suggested, "If at all possible, partner with your parents to try to find a place, and go with them on visits to places, because you both are going to want to be comfortable."
The federally-funded National Resource Center on LGBT Aging, which SAGE manages, offers various tips on how to find LGBT-friendly care, including looking for places that advertise in LGBT publications, have LGBT people represented in their materials, or have been recommended by friends.
Children of LGBT parents may also encounter problems working with service providers if they are not the legal children of one of the parents. Single parents with non-biological/non-adoptive children should consider naming them in documents such as a power of attorney, health care proxy, living will, and the like, French said.
As for when adults should raise any of these issues with their parents, French advised, "Sooner rather than later."
"While the initial conversation might be uncomfortable," he said, "it’s actually much easier to have these conversations when there isn’t a crisis," such as a heart attack or diagnosis of an illness. That way, "you aren’t then tying these things directly to mortality."
A better approach, he said, is having an everyday conversation and asking, "I’m just wondering, do you have stuff in place, in the event that there might be an emergency down the road?"
And while LGBT parents should have their documentation in place as soon as they have children, if not before, French said, "that’s not the way it really happens" in many cases. All adults should therefore have a conversation with their parents "just to see if they have things in order."
Additional resources to help caregivers assist LGBT elders are on the SAGE Web site (www.sageusa.org), the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging (www.lgbtagingcenter.org), and the AARP LGBT portal (www.aarp.org/pride). The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has additional information on policy issues affecting LGBT elders (www.thetaskforce.org/issues/aging).
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian, a blog and resource directory for LGBT parents. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.