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Edition 263 – Peggy

Today would have been my mother-in-law, Peggy’s 95th birthday. Sadly, she passed away in March 2012, the effects of dementia finally taking her. It’s often why I’ve called the disease “the long goodbye” as it takes it’s toll on the body and the mind of the individual and the spirt of those around them. Perhaps one day, the wonders of medical science will find a solution to this condition.

As I’ve explained previously (Growth – Edition 199 – Ageing Parents – Wednesday 27th November, 2019), Peggy lived with us for almost 12 years. It was a sudden arrival into our household after Trish’s father, Wal, passed away unexpectedly late one November evening in 1996. As an aside, Wal would have turned 100 on Monday 1st March.

I’m experiencing a number of family business owners, right now, grappling with the health issues associated with having an ageing parent. Invariably, most people are caught up in their own lives. Business life, community work, children and grandchildren. Yet, it’s not until an ageing parent suffers a health event that we realise just how underprepared we are for the time and emotional investment that is required.

Thankfully, at the time Peggy lived with us, I’d been made a partner at Redmans, my former accounting practice. It was an expensive time of life – mortgage, young children and a business loan. However, Trish and I made the decision that, for the benefit of not only our children, but also for the care of her mother, that she would work part time. We factored this into our lives for two reasons:

  1. Financially, we could afford to.
  2. Emotionally, it was the right thing to do.

As the years progressed, Peggy grew more frail and her health issues magnified. On a number of occasions, emergency hospital visits were in order and Trish, being her primary carer, was by her side so that she wasn’t overwhelmed with the medical speak or the diagnosis. Thankfully, we’d already structured into our business life that I could take time out to look after our then young sons and provide Trish with as much support as I could.

Ironically, what I was experiencing myself became an important part of advising my clients about dealing with their elderly parents and the impact it can have on a family business. Here’s some of the lessons from that time and from my observations of others that have gone through the same experience.

  1. If your parents are 70 or older, prepare for the unexpected in terms of their health and the time you will need to invest to be there for and with them.
  2. Invariably, the primary responsibility for an elderly parent will fall on one individual in the family. That creates pressure and tension.
  3. Find outside support early. The Camden District Activity Centre was a god-send for us as it gave Peggy a social outlet with people her own age.
  4. Have the conversation early with your parents about their living intentions. Staying in your own home sounds great in theory – but not if it is high maintenance or not geared for ageing and disability.
  5. If you are the only adult child in your family that owns a business, your siblings will expect you to take the greatest level of responsibility. It is perceived, rightly or wrongly, that you can fit elderly care into your day (because you can do anything you like in your own business, right?) when a full time employee can’t.
  6. Consider a multi generational household as a transition between your parent’s independence and aged care. Our sons enjoyed experiences with their grandmother that will sit with them for a lifetime simply as a result of Peggy living with us. Our then 8 year old son Fraser learned to make scones with Peggy and still does so today.
  7. Aged care costs money and, potentially, lots of it. Look at the numbers early – and have the hard conversation with your elderly parents about how it’s going to be funded.
  8. Encourage your parents to bring their affairs up to date – then keep them up to date, regularly. It solves problems before they start.

If you prepare early, the inevitable disruption to your business life can be minimised. It also provides you with the opportunity to have the many and varied conversations that most people wish they had done, before it’s no longer possible to do so. 

My Family Business Australia colleague and friend, Danielle Robertson of DR Care Solutions specialises in helping guide people through the myriad of issues associated with ageing and elderly parents.

You’ll find more details at