A long, long time ago, about the time that you were a pre-teen, your parents geared themselves up to have the “talk” with you.
They dreaded it.
They wondered how to approach the topic. They expected it to be awkward. They winced just thinking about the discussion. They wondered what aspects of this awkward topic they needed to cover.
Or maybe they avoided the topic altogether and let you just “figure it out” on your own. Back then the important topic was the “birds and the bees”.
What you didn’t know might have caused you to have significant hurdles in life.
Fast forward thirty or more years and it’s your turn.
There is a critical topic that you need to talk to your parents about.
The sad fact is that most adults don’t realize how important it is. The discussion will cover the two broad areas of their health and finances. These two areas cover many different subtopics.
So you need to gear yourself up to have essential conversations with your aging parents.
I know you are also wondering how to bring the topic up, and I can help you with that!
You just know it will be awkward. It might even stir your parents up. They may accuse you of being nosey.
Some parents are difficult and may shut down the discussion. Others are totally open to facing the topic head-on.
You know your parents best. You already have a good idea of which camp your parents fall into.
But you are still left wondering which topics are the most important. How deep should those topics be covered?
Where do you start with the process of having essential conversations with your aging parents?
Essential Conversations with Your Aging Parents: Starting Points
When is the best time to have essential conversations with your aging parents?
Talking about your parent’s health directives and financial future is never going to be easy. It’s an emotionally laden topic, that will require multiple conversations.
I will tell you that sooner is always better. If you start having this dialog early enough, it will save you the heartache of having it at a less opportune time, such as a health crisis.
The last thing you want to do is wait to have essential conversations with your aging parents until they are already retired or having health problems.
There are all types of parents. Our relationships with our parents vary according to cultural norms or life events.
Depending on the exact nature of your relationship with your parents or events from your childhood, you may have some fear that your parents will become angry or blow you off.
Unfortunately, the essential conversations with your aging parents will still need to happen.
Approaching the topic, then backing off may be a good strategy. It’s like planting a seed. It may take time to germinate. You may need to back off and give them that time. You can broach the topic again on a later date when they may be more receptive.
Choosing the setting and paying attention mood is important, especially when your parents fall into the difficult to approach category.
You want to segue into a subject of this magnitude when you are all calm.
Sometimes riding in the car running routine errands is the perfect time to casually start an unthreatening dialog (aka planting that seed).
Essential conversations with your aging parents shouldn’t be discussed after a hectic day or during family holidays.
No matter what your relationship with your parent or how open they are to this discussion–building space around these essential conversations is imperative.
Essential Conversations: Subject Matter
Now that you are reminded of how to choose the timing of these essential conversations with your aging parents, let’s talk about the actual subject matter.
#1. Financial Power of Attorney: Have your parents named someone to manage their assets in the event they are unable to make financial decisions?
#2. Last Will and Testament: Do your parents have a Will that legally informs everyone what is to be done with their property and who is the executor?
The executor handles distributing a deceased person’s property, arranging payments in the event of debts and handle filing legal documents.
#3. Medical Power of Attorney: Who do your parents want to make medical decisions or become a guardian for them?
#4. Living Will: Do your parents have this important document that states their preferences for medical care in the event they are terminally ill, in a coma or near end-of-life medical care?
Subject Matter, Communication and Culture
There is no one size approach when dealing with such a broad variety of families.
Some of your parents will have cultural factors that influence their responses when discussing a plan for retirement or end-of-life planning.
There are cultures where the members are raised with the built-in knowledge that taking care of aging parents is a given. You have observed examples of extended family living and care from a very young age. You intrinsically know caregiving is part of your future.
That means these conversations with your aging parents are still imperative. However, depending on your background some subject matter may need to be handled with your parent’s cultural preferences in mind!
For example, while some cultures embrace individualism, there are many others who value collectivism.
The different cultures have vastly different outlooks on retirement, end-of-life health care choices (including signing directives regarding that care) and funeral planning.
So the conversations must lean toward taking care of parents in a culturally appropriate way and take into consideration a busy lifestyle complete with career and children.
In many cultures, the aging parent will already live with the children as part of a common and accepted extended family arrangement, easing that part of any transition.
If your parents are able to manage their personal physical care, but your time is spent transporting and attending various medical appointments with them, perhaps you could arrange for someone to help with housekeeping, meal prep or errands.
Depending on how acclimated your parents are to American culture an adult daycare may be an option–or it may not.
As a physician with a demanding career bringing a caregiver into your home, for at least part of the time. It could potentially be a solution to feeling the time crunch and pressure of familial expectations.
The idea is to have all essential conversations with your aging parents taken care of before any action is needed. This might include discussing creative ways to take the pressure out of your daily life where you can.
This conversation may need to happen due to cultural differences.
The discussion must include talking about the legal documents that are needed in the United States that give you, as the adult child, power of attorney. There may be a discrepancy between what may be culturally appropriate and signing the paperwork that will allow adult children the power to make decisions.
Maybe, you don’t see eye-to-eye with an aging parent because you see various solutions to handling an aging parent as acceptable. Your aging parents may have an entirely different perspective!
In this case, having patience will go a long way to resolving the difference!
You can do a lot for your family, but with a busy career and perhaps some children added to the mix, but you can’t do it all. I think it is important to acknowledge that and think of how you might deal with the possible scenarios unique to your family before they are needed!
Subject Matter & Millennials:
Another group that needs to be mentioned are millennials. They are often unfairly stereotyped as lazy and selfish. However, just like many generations before them, a large percentage understand that they may need to step in and help out their aging parents.
Millennials can be considered a “sandwich” generation. They are caught in the crossfire of the student loan crisis that I have written about in other blogs, the rising price of housing (some states are in a full-on crisis over exorbitant housing costs) and the time and money it takes to raise their own children.
However, they are still a generation that is facing the very real need to financially and physically help out their aging parents!
Let Me Tell You a Story
One way to ease into these essential conversations with your aging parents is to start with a story.
Let an account of someone else’s situation be the prompt for your conversations about estate and long-term care planning.
There are real-life examples everywhere! You’ve probably heard of one from a friend, radio or a news program!
Someone didn’t leave a will and the fight over assets turned into a family brawl.
An incapacitated loved one didn’t sign a medical power of attorney and the family members disagreed on a course of action.
Perhaps, using a story illustrating how someone’s last dearest wish wasn’t met because they didn’t leave a will. The tragedy was the state decided what actually happened to the assets.
Pointing out that your parents are giving up the power to decide who they want to gift their house, car, coin collection or a specific treasure to will certainly have an impact.
Assure your parents that planning now allows them the most power and prevents impetuous decisions in the future.
There is very little margin for you to go wrong with a discussion in which your parents can see that you are encouraging them to take control and make their own decisions.
They can see that by having these essential conversations that you are not trying to take any power away from them.
You are attempting to make sure they receive the care that they need and their wishes will be fulfilled.
You are actually empowering them with the greatest gift: the ability to choose while they can!
You Can Lead a Horse to Water…
One way to gather important information in an easy and fun way is by using Mind Mapping software. You can do it for yourself and then tell your parents about it and offer to do it with them.
It’s something I use when planning with my clients. It’s free and opens the door to a really good conversation. However, it is also something that can’t be rushed in one sitting! Take time to use Mind Mapping over several meetings.
Let’s say despite all your efforts at attempting to have these meaningful and essential conversations with your aging parents they are still reluctant to talk about the needed subjects, how do you proceed?
The details in estate planning are always nice, but they aren’t necessary. You can request that your parents gather some basic information into one document and gather important legal documents together.
What information should the document contain?
- List of any real estate
- Retirement account information
- A list of debtors/how they are paid
- Banking institutions/account information
- Any online account information that will need to be closed
The legal documents should include:
- Power of Attorney
- Home/Vehicle titles
- Cemetery plot information
- Health care directives (including DNR and a Living Will)
You will ask that your parents put this paper and these documents somewhere safe. They can let you know where to locate and gain access to it when the time comes.
There you have them, the stepping stones to help you grapple with a grave topic.
As a fee-only planner, I suggest you have a detailed conversation or at the very least have your parents write down the basic information included in this blog.
As a planner, who wants to see results, I would follow up with your parents and make sure they did complete this task! You will thank your future self when the time comes.