What about your parents? Helping start the conversation with parents about end of life decisions and planning

by Megan Gebhardt, Gebhardt Law Office

Typically, I write articles about naming guardians and having wills or estate plans for new parents and growing families. But new parents also have questions about their parents. This article is about what you can do to start the conversation about how your parents want financial and health care decisions handled as they age.

These topics generally don’t offer themselves up to casual conversation with parents, so planning ahead is wise. It is frustrating to deal with figuring out how to pay bills for your parent on top of worrying about their health and how to make health care decisions for them. It is better to avoid surprises and rushed decisions under emotional stress.

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Here are some things that you can talk about with your parents and some thoughts about how to approach the conversations with respect for your parent’s privacy:

How do your parents want to have financial and health care decisions handled if they become incapacitated?

What do they need to do now to be sure that their wishes are followed? For example, setting up automatic bill payments, adding a co-signer to a checking account, and putting a financial durable power of attorney in place are all actions that should happen now, before the parent loses capacity to delegate financial decision making in the future. Keep as much of the family as is appropriate in the loop about these decisions.

Aging and Health

Have your parents talked to you, each other, and their care providers about their wishes for care at the end of life? This is an area where there are several wonderful free resources to get the conversation started, including the website End of Life Washington that provides free, easily accessed resources. Consider telling your parents that you want to talk about end of life decisions in the future and give them one of these resources to go over and work on before that conversation happens. This is also a good context to bring up the topic of aging in place, retirement homes and assisted living options.

Money

If finances are not a dinner table topic of conversation for you and your parents, consider breaking up the conversations into manageable shorter conversations. Do they have a plan to pay for long term care in the future if it is needed? Do they have enough cushion to live comfortably? Not knowing whether your parents will face losing all of their resources to pay for care is stressful for everyone involved. Planning ahead allows everyone to make the most of the situation. And a note – I have had many clients ask about what happens to their parent debts at death – while all of their assets can be used to pay those debts off, the child will not inherit the debts themselves.

Approach

No one likes being caught off guard, or feeling like their privacy is being compromised. Instead of telling your parents that they can no longer do something (manage their finances, drive, live alone) start the conversation with something like: “My friend and his parents are reviewing their personal and financial plans; you are important to me and I want to be able to help you for as long as possible – can we start that conversation as well?” or “ I am working on my own estate plan to be sure that my children are protected in case anything happens to me, can we talk about your plan?”

Start by letting your parents know that you want to talk with them, in the future, about end of life decisions and their estate plan. It can be helpful to invite other family to join the conversation – but it can sometimes be unhelpful. Consider bringing in someone that your parents respect and will want to hear from if you suspect you may not be that person.

Making it manageable

These are usually conversations that take place over time, in several parts, for good reason: It is overwhelming to think about your own health, eventual death, financial matters and health decisions. Breaking the conversation into parts makes it more manageable. What’s more, parents do not want to be a burden to their family. Emphasizing that planning ahead will be a gift to their family can help them get over the discomfort of talking.

Once you find a time to talk about it, offer to help them go over whatever they are comfortable with and be ready with suggestions, not criticism.

Take time to listen to your parents and find out their underlying concerns and hesitations. Ask open-ended questions, such as “Can you tell me why you don’t want to move away from Florida/into a retirement home? Once you have an idea of what their hesitations and requirements are, you will be better suited to help find a solution.

Do what you can to help your parents plan for the future while respecting your parents’ preferences. Show care, empathy, and patience instead of disapproval. As much as these decisions may affect you, these critical decisions matter even more to them.

It is possible to have very good conversations about end of life decisions, finances and delegating money and health management without the parent having to disclose financial statements to you. At the end of the day, it benefits both you and them to have a plan in place.

Details

Here is some basic information that will be helpful for you to have after you have discussed health and financial matters with your parents. This information will be helpful to you when dealing with insurance companies, financial institutions and care providers.

  • The location of their estate planning documents, birth and marriage certificates, social security numbers, deeds to property and burial plots, vehicle titles, insurance policies.
  • Sources of income and assets (e.g. bank, retirement accounts, public benefits).
  • Contact information for CPA, attorneys and financial planners that they work with – and permission from your parents to speak with them.
  • Contact information for care providers and pharmacy and a list of medication/dosage amounts – and permission from your parents to speak with them.

About the Author

Megan lives in Seattle with her husband and two sons. She is the Owner of Gebhardt Law Office, and focuses her practice exclusively on estate planning. She serves as a volunteer speaker for PEPS groups and on the Boards of the Washington First Responder Will Clinic and The Valley School. She is an enthusiastic supporter of PEPS and always recommends it as the first thing to sign up for when she finds out someone is expecting.

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