It’s as difficult and dreaded as the birds and bees talk.
Just like kids have conversations with their parents about the start of life, grown up “kids” face their own version: talking to parents about the end of it.
And with life span continually increasing, it’s even more important to discuss the future of finances and health if retirement is going to be decades long.
Having the Talk
Catherine Hodder, an estate planning attorney and author, shares her advice on how to have a productive conversation with parents and make a plan respectful of their wishes.
First, she says, it’s not a one-time conversation, but a process that takes time.
Hodder recommends patience and that children wait until parents feel comfortable. Remember, the hardest aspect of this for the aging parent is for them to admit need and ask for help.
It’s also a family affair.
Always be transparent with family members and siblings. Don’t try to control or keep all the information to yourself, Hodder says. The best approach is to keep siblings up-to-date and include them in the process. Surprises often add emotional drama to an already hard situation.
Listen. It’s the most important thing you can do. Parents may need to express anger or anxiety. They may have bitterness because life didn’t turn out the way they wished. As you listen, don’t pass judgment, empathize.
As they share their wishes, make sure to keep record of them and what they want carried out. Are there heirlooms, stories, recipes or other important items to record or preserve for the family legacy? Always consult an attorney to ensure documents are enforceable.
Hodder says there are several key subject areas to address:
Financial issues: How much money do they have to live on? Is it enough to last into their 70s, 80s or 90s? Do they have a power of attorney or a will?
Health care and medical issues: Health spans and life spans are growing longer, but that doesn’t mean medications are non-existent. Do you know what your parents take for illnesses and do they have a “longevity cocktail“? Have they given you or your siblings medical power of attorney in case they become incapacitated?
Aging and home care: Do they need significant care? Can they stay at home or do they need to consider senior living options?
End of life decisions: If they are nearing end of life or have a terminal illness, do they have an advanced medical directive or a living will?
The Role Reversal
Children often become caregivers. More than 15 million people make up an “invisible” workforce of unpaid and untrained caregivers for older adults. On average, they spend 30 hours per week giving care, totaling nearly 400 billion of annual unpaid time.
Beyond the needs of their parents, children caregivers face challenges of their own, including depression, financial difficulties, and loss of productivity at their jobs. For some, it can become a full time job.
Hiring help can be a huge relief but you must be careful, Hodder says. There are numerous reports of hired help stealing from seniors in their care. Some criminals choose elderly people to target and exploit.
So while “the talk” can be cringe-worthy in theory, in practice it makes the golden years a a bit more tranquil.