Over the years, your parents have likely been a great source of information and advice, some well received, other times no so much. However, now that they are entering the latter stages of life, it may be up to you to bring up important issues they need to consider and offer your own advice and support. The holidays are a good time to reconnect and have a quiet chat about some of these issues. While not always an easy conversation, here are some tips to help you get started and avoid the pitfalls that can result when important issues are left for the last minute.
Seniors need to consider a whole host of issues that, most likely, they never really thought of before now. Who will care for them if they get ill? How will they pay for long-term care should they require it? What about burial plots, Wills and memorial plans? These are sensitive subjects that, nevertheless, have to be confronted in order to ensure that your parents have their wishes respected and that you are not left in the middle of an unexpected emergency.
Be an advocate. Discussions about end-of-life issues are never easy, so as you consider a discussion with your aging parents, don’t be heavy handed. It’s easy for adult children to come off as being too bossy in these situations, which can make parents uncomfortable, defensive, suspicious, and even resentful. Rather, approach sensitive subjects from a position of respect. Offer to help, not to control.
Start now and start small. Don’t wait for tragedy to strike before opening the door to difficult conversations. After mom falls and breaks a hip, or dad has a stroke, is not the time to be asking if your parents have a power of attorney or health care proxy. And trying to cover everything under the sun in one sit down can be overwhelming and seem intrusive. Break down important issues into a series of talks and offer to follow up.
Make estate-planning documents a priority. Estate plans, like finances, can be very private and parents may not want to disclose their plans entirely. The important issue is not who gets what, it is that your parents have a plan. Wills, durable powers of attorney and health care proxies are musts for seniors. Trusts and tax planning are appropriate for many. Offer to help research what is best for them.
Approach finances delicately. It’s important to approach financial conversations with a soft touch. No one likes to talk about money so instead of asking for the nitty-gritty, find out who their financial advisor is, if they have one, so that you can help in an emergency. This will offer a supportive, rather than an intrusive, framework from which some in depth discussions may emerge.
Provide emotional support. Just like everyone else, seniors deal a wide range of emotions such including anxiety, fear and depression. Coping with the loss of friends and loved ones can be especially difficult as we age. Offer yourself as a compassionate and supportive shoulder to lean on and your parents may open up to you more than you might expect. The goal of these conversations, after all, is to make sure they are cared for as best as possible. Start today.
By following these simple strategies, and by providing a compassionate sounding board for your parents, you can help secure your parents in the knowledge that their best interests are your goal and that their wishes will be respected. Furthermore, you can relax knowing that you’re doing all you can to head off unexpected emergencies in the future by being proactive and planning ahead.