The Talk

You have been dreading it, but you know when they reach a certain age it is time
to have “The Talk”.  You know the choices they make (or do not make) now are
critical to their future health and happiness, but the topics are so sensitive that
you  just  do  not  know  how  to  begin.    Yes,  both  you  and  your  parents  are
understandably  reluctant  to  talk  about  such  personal  topics  as  end  of  life
decisions, incapacity and finances.

To begin, many families do not even want to think about such depressing things,
in the ostrich – like believing that issues not discussed will never happen.  Some
parents still perceive their adult offspring as “children” and want to protect them
from  such difficult  decisions.    Many  may  feel their  independence  and  authority are  being  challenged.    After  the  initial  uneasiness,  everyone  feels  a  sense  of relief being able to discuss issues and concerns openly and a sense of comfort in being heard and understood knowing that a plan is in place.

How to Break the Ice

Ask Advice – One excellent way to bring up these sensitive topics is to ask
your parent’s advice  about  your own  situation.   What  do  they  think  about  your investments or the provisions you have made in your will?  Who might be a good person  to  handle  your  finances  if  you  were  ill?    You  can  then  expand  the discussion to plans they have made and why.

News Stories – A story in the news can often provide a good opening to
discuss really difficult issues.  Discuss the circumstances of a celebrity or other
individual who has been ill or died.  Does your parent think they might have had a living will?  How might they have avoided problems with the estate?

Talk  About  a  Friend’s  Problems  –  We  often  have  a  more  objective
perspective in looking at other people’s problems.  Discuss the guilt and anguish
a  friend  felt  in  making  end  of  life  decisions  for  a  parent.    This  opens  the
opportunity for you to say “I realized I do not know much about your wishes.”

It’s Not Just What You Say, Its How You Say It

Consider  their  perspective  –  Your  parents  may  perceive  “The  Talk”  as
threatening, anxiety provoking, pushy and downright nosey.  Acknowledge their
discomfort and  your own.    Respect  their  need  to  be  in  control by  emphasizing that  you  want  to  abide  by  their  desires  and  need  to  know  their  wishes  “just  in case.”

 Give them a break – Often it helps to break up the discussion into smaller
parts or to  broach  the  subject briefly  and  then  come back  to  it  at  a  later date.  This gives your parents a chance to think about the issues and time for everyone to get more comfortable with the discussions.  You should set a definite time to revisit matters and continue the discussion.

Avoid  arguments  –  Sensitive  topics  can  give  rise  to  family  conflicts  and
sibling  rivalries.    Avoid  being  argumentative  and  keep  focused  on  the  goal  of working  together  toward  a  high  quality  of  life  for  mom  and  dad.    In  some situations,  family  counselors  or  mediators  may  help  the  family  work  through issues.

Choose the  right  messenger  –  It  may  be helpful to have  someone  other
than family address some issues.  Your parents may be more inclined to listen to
a family friend or a policeman about the need to stop driving or the family doctor
about the need for home help.

Take Action

Commit  to  help  in  specific  ways  –  Now  that  things  are  out  in  the  open, work together to establish a family plan.  If you want Dad to stop climbing up on the roof, commit to when your son will be there to clean the gutters.  If Mom has agreed to stop driving, how often will you be by to take her to the hairdresser or the grocery?  What trade professionals can be relied upon?  Who is to be called in an emergency?  Involve as many family members as possible in roles they are comfortable  with  so  that  one  person  is  not  overwhelmed  and  no  one  feels excluded.

Go slowly – Take things slowly.  Parents are more receptive to help with
organizing  records  or  unofficially  monitoring  assets  online  than  they  are  with someone “stepping in” or “taking over.”  It will be easier to gradually move into a more official role as everyone gets more comfortable with sharing the reins.

Help  them  help  themselves  –  Think  of  ways  that  will  help  your  parents help themselves.  Set up the bills to be paid automatically.   Install grab bars in the bathroom.  Organize the weekly pill box.  Help consolidate their assets into fewer accounts and credit cards.
Formalize the plan – Schedule an appointment with an elder law attorney
to  be  sure  all  legal  bases  are  covered  including  appropriate  wills  or  trusts,
powers of attorney for finance and health care and living wills.  The attorney will
review  the  available  assets,  discuss  public  resources  and  address  taxes  and
other planning issues.  Putting all the pieces together will give your parents and
the entire family peace of mind.


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