Define “The Talk”
When we were young, we dreaded the thought of our parents having “The Talk”! Back in the day, “The Talk” was commonly known as the conversation about “The Birds and The Bees”. This was code for discussing physical and hormonal changes, which lead to the conversation about sex. So, just like talking about sex, won’t get a person pregnant, talking about aging and end of life issues, doesn’t mean you are going to die any time soon!
It’s common for elderly parents to be reluctant about-facing end-of-life issues. The purpose of the next few minutes is to help you become better equipped to have “the talk” with your loved ones, especially your parents, about wills, finances, medical care choices, and funerals, when the time comes? It’s common for elderly parents to be reluctant about-facing end-of-life issues.
If you are thinking about asking your parent or loved one about planning their end-of-life affairs, you are most likely motivated by love and concern. Elderly parents may be reluctant to face end-of-life issues. This may be due to one of three reasons:
- Lack of experience or information
When in reality, if you are thinking about asking your parents or loved one about their end-of-life affairs, you are most likely motivated by one of the actions below. Like most friends or family members, you’re hoping to:
1. Honor their wishes regarding personal items, medical decisions, and funeral plans.
2. Avoid making hasty and emotional decisions in a crisis.
3. Prevent overspending due to not knowing their wishes.
4. Avoid conflict that could result in a family feud.
Sadly, elderly parents sometimes misconstrue their children’s concerns as noisiness. Even worse, they may see it as an attempt to take over management of their personal affairs. Many of today’s seniors were raised not to discuss these issues openly, so don’t be surprised if the first response you hear is, “None of your business!” At some point, no matter how awkward this conversation may feel as an adult child, if your parents have not initiated this dialog, you will have to.
Ways to start the conversation.
Many times, a “marker moment” will instigate this conversation. Examples of marker moments are:
– September 11, 2001
– When President John F. Kennedy died.
– The COVID-19 pandemic.
– A personal health scare.
– Death of a friend, family member, or pet.
Most people have success when they engage their parents with a leading question to guide the conversation gently toward this topic in a non-confrontational manner. Questions should be thought-provoking and pave the way for on-going conversations. One way to introduce the topic is by placing the focus on yourself. Share with your parents that you were thinking about your own mortality and estate-planning issues and ask them for some advice.
Possible Leading Questions
- Do you have any medical / financial power of attorney?
- How do you feel about the refusal of life support?
- Do you have a living will?
- Is there an attorney you would recommend or prefer?
- Is there a list anywhere of all your medications?
- Do you prefer a local hospital, or would you prefer to travel to a specific one?
These types of open-ended questions are an excellent place to start a conversation, as the focus is not based on their assets or heirlooms. It also will give you insight into how organized they are. Remember, getting a person to discuss their living wishes is much easier than entering into a discussion about their death. If received positively, it may encourage future discussions. It may also nudge your parents or loved one to realize that someone, besides them, should be aware of their wishes.
Keep in mind that they are more likely to be more forthcoming if you approach it from the standpoint of wanting to be helpful in a crisis. Should you meet resistance, and your parents are not willing to discuss things with you now, let them know that you would appreciate some direction in the near future, even if it’s in the form of a letter.
Key Points to Remember When Talking to Your Parents.
- Our parents or loved ones aren’t oblivious to the fact that they are aging!
- If your parents or loved ones haven’t made plans of this nature, let them know it’s okay and that you’ll be happy to help them through the process by giving them the names of some eldercare and estate planning experts for them to call.
- If they are concerned about expenses, reassure them that it may not be as costly as they think and that often there is no charge for consultations.
Let them know that the financial and emotional costs of doing nothing are far greater. Remind them that if nothing is protected, the only winner is the probate court.