by Kevin K. Johnson, Certified Senior Advisor (CSA)
In my last post titled “Long-Term Care Planning — A Sense of Urgency“, I discussed the criticality associated with long-term care planning inclusive of Advanced Directives. But when it comes to assisting some seniors, particularly our parents, there can be a problem. Too often we don’t know how to have the discussion regarding these sensitive issues. Many seniors are like my parents, whereby they don’t want to discuss any of these important issues with their children or with anyone else. So what do you do?
Consider these 10 steps put forth by MetLife and the Journal of Financial Service Professionals. I’ve relied on them over the years and these recommendations along with a few others, have served me well.
These sources note that sitting down with your parents to discuss legal, financial, and long-term care issues can be uncomfortable. Adult children often do not know much about their parents’ financial situation, whether they have enough money to live on, or to pay for the care they would want. Often, families have not had discussions about how they view the end of their lives, and what preparations they have made. Just has challenging is that for most of us it is hard to face the fact that our parents, the people who took care of us, are getting older and may need assistance in decision making and caring for themselves. It is difficult to ask questions about finances. These tips will provide you with the communication strategies and considerations for these important discussion and may help in opening a dialogue with your parents.
- Start Discussions Early — I urge you to gather the courage to act now. Do not wait until it is too late. If there is anyway possible, while your parents are still in good health, use the opportunity to start the conversation. Perhaps an item that appears in a newspaper, or a friend or relative’s illness can be the opening to start the dialogue. Once your parents develop a serious illness or are unable to make decisions for themselves, it is much more difficult to have this kind of conversation!
- Include Other Family Members — If possible, bring other family members into the discussions with your parents. Here’s the caveat. First determine whether they have different opinions that would undermine what your are trying to accomplish. Get all the issues on the table and gather support from siblings and other relatives.
- Explain the Purpose of Your Conversation — Let your parents know you are concerned about them, and you want to do the right thing for them as they age. Remember, even though this will be a tremendous help to you, make sure they know that this conversation is all about them and their well-being. You are not being nosey. You have simply reached the point where you have to be prepared ‘in case something unplanned happens’.
- Understand and Respect Your Parents’ Need to Control Their Own Lives — It is important to remember that your parents have a right to make their own decisions. At some point, you may need to balance your parents’ independence with their safety, but try not to take away their sense of control over their own lives.
- Agree to Disagree — Your heart may tell you that your are right, and that you know what needs to be done, but you and your parents may disagree with each other. Do not try and bully your way through. Their wishes should prevail unless their health or safety is in question.
- Use Good Communication Skills — It will be more effective if you offer options and not advice. Remember, these are your parents and elders, so steering them is better than forcing them. Ask them for their ideas on each subject. Express your concerns rather than telling them what they should do . Listen and leverage the power of silence. Use open-ended questions that foster discussion rather than closed questions that are answered with a “yes” or “no”.
- Ask About Records and Documentation — Know where your parents’ insurance policies advanced directives, trust documents, tax returns, and investment and banking records are located. You can start by asking your parents where they keep their papers, and whom you should contact in case they are in an accident, or are incapacitated. It may be difficult to ask directly about financial and legal matters, and this approach may provide you with an opening to discuss what prevision have been made and what may need to be done.
- Provide Information — Do your homework. Your parents may not have enough information about services and legal and financial options that may be available to them. You can play an important role by serving as a resource to them, and by providing materials for them to read. As they look over the materials there may be opportunities to open a dialog. Your parents may be eligible for government programs. Check www.benefitscheckup.org for assistance for people over the age of 55. You might find that they are eligible for benefits that will help pay for prescription drugs, health care, utilities and other essential items or services.
- Re-Evaluate If Your Discussion is not Working Well — If you find that you conversations are not progressing well, try and assess what is going wrong. Perhaps you are not coming across the way you thought you were. Or perhaps you just do not have enough information at hand. You might suggest that your parent talk to a third party such as a geriatric care manager, a certified senior advisor, a financial planner, or an attorney.
- Treat Your Parents with Respect — Your parents have lived a long time, and have learned a great deal during their lives. They may have made great sacrifices to give you the life you have. While old age can be a rewarding time, it is often a time of loss — of loved ones, of health, and of independence. Treat your parents with love and respect, and reassure them that you will be there for them as they age.
One additional approach I recommend is that you “drink your own Kool-Aid”. Make sure your children are not put in this situation. Document, and when appropriate, discuss your long-term care plans and Advanced Directives with you children. If you can use this as an example of what you have done, it will place you in a much stronger position when speaking with our parents. At any age, there is nothing like leading by example.
I have used these tactics with my parents and have had tremendous success breaking through the objectives and working with them to formulate their long-term care plans. Everyone is different so be prepared to adjust your approach based on your relationship with your parents. But always remember that they are your parents. One key to success is to never forget the order in the parent-child relationship. If you keep the order first, you stand a good chance of navigating through this difficult area and creating Long-Term Plans and Advanced Directives that is to the advantage of your parents and to you. I never said it would be easy, but with this list, you too can successfully get through this. Good luck!