It’s a must. The conversation, that is. It’s going to happen. We are going to age, and there are going to be complications because of it.
Ideally, parents will approach their children armed with their completed power of attorney documents, advanced care plans, burial plans, and already have their name on the waitlist at the local multi-tiered facility that will take them all the way from independent living to full 24-hour nursing care.
But, this is unlikely. It’s very easy to have the mentality of “it’s too early to discuss this” but the worst thing is when it is too late. We can assure you: It’s time. So here are some tips.
Start small. Honor your loved one’s private nature by keeping those present at the meeting to immediate family. This might mean that although a parent loves his son-in-law, he does not need to be present for this conversation, this time. So think, who needs to be at this first conversation?
Meet in a peaceful, neutral setting. Maybe you’re all together and everyone is feeling content and happy. Now might be a perfect time to say “Mom, Dad… Jenny, Bruce and I would like to talk with you for a few minutes. We are all in town and want to learn about how you would like us to handle things in the future.”
“I’ve been thinking about making a will. Do you have any advice?”
“We want to learn about how you would like us to handle things in the future.”
“I saw an article online about keeping all my important papers. It made me think… could you show me where all yours are just in case?”
“I’m getting my eyes tested next week. Have yours bothered you lately?”
“My friend’s mom just had some hand-rails put around her tub. Have you thought about what you’d like to do about things like that down the road?”
Make sure you are all on the same page. If you are a potential caregiver, discuss the goal of the meeting and come up with a list of questions you want to ask your parents in regards to their financial, health, and medical status. Start by putting them first. “We want to learn what is important to you as you age.”
- What kind of care do you want?
- Do you want to age in place or in a senior living community?
- If in place, who do you want to provide this care?
- Who do you want to assist you with your finances if you become unable to do it yourself?
- Have you done a last will and testament?
- Who is your executor?
- What’s your current financial state? How much income do you have each month, and where does it come from? How much do you owe in bills each month? Is there debt we should be aware of?
- You always said you wanted to donate your body to science, have you completed those forms?
Lead with a story. Even once you’ve gotten everyone together, it can be hard to start the actual conversation. One way is to lead with a story of a friend or extended family member who wasn’t organized (or hadn’t talked to family about their wishes) and had a medical crisis. Use this as a diving board to jump TOGETHER into the conversation.
For example, “When your neighbor fell last month at church, what happened with her care afterward? What would you want it to look like if that happened to you?”
Don’t “should” on anyone. Always use language that respects your loved one’s independence and ability to make their own decisions. The word “should” is a great example of this. Instead of “You should move your office downstairs to decrease your risk of falling” say “I know you love to spend time in your office. Would it be helpful for us to move it downstairs?” Speak in a tone that conveys respect and dignity towards your loved one. Honor and recognize their independence. Never undermine that.
If in doubt, make a list. If everyone is willing to move forward with the conversation, summarize next steps at the end of the meeting. Discuss who’s going to call the lawyer to get the power of attorney accomplished, set up dates to follow up, and schedule the next family meeting. Offer to help your loved one set up appointments to get items accomplished like a burial plan or to get on the waitlist at a local senior living unit. If care needs are more immediate, start looking for someone to help with grocery shopping and offer to set up interviews with them and your loved one(s).
If at first you don’t succeed… Finally, if all goes to hell in a handbasket, try again. Or, if it just goes very slowly, stop and smell the flowers. This conversation often requires patience and a few meetings to get things accomplished. But it is necessary and will make it easier for all of you, both emotionally and practically, as life unfolds.