No doubt, if you think back to your teenage years, at some point your parents approached you with trepidation asking tentatively if it was time to have “the talk,” about “you know what.” Chances are you were mortified and didn’t want to sit down with them.  Now, chances are you might be feeling the same way about approaching your parents to talk with them about a different, but equally important topic; planning for their future including a will, estate planning, finances and even end of life care. No one likes to talk about a future that doesn’t include them but involving family in those discussions is the best way to avoid conflict during a health crisis and in its immediate aftermath. If you’re a member of the sandwich generation, juggling kids and senior parents, it might be time to have “the talk.” Today we’re offering some tips and tools on how to go about it without sounding like a “gold-digger!”

Timing is Everything

According to industry experts in hospice and palliative care (amongst others) having the talk before a health crisis will make managing the crisis that much smoother. But when do you PLAN to have a conversation about death and dying? The key word is to PLAN for it:

  • Don’t spring the conversation on a loved one unannounced. It will be hard no matter what but the surprise element won’t help.
  • Consider your environment and comfort. It might be nice to make a coffee, prepare ahead with a baked treat or even plan for a lunch or dinner. Make the setting more of an event that’s about celebrating a life well lived rather than the sole focus being about money or end of life care.
  • Who should attend? If you have siblings or if there are spouses who may be impacted by future plans, they should likely be a part of the planning process to ensure there is clarity around all the points to be discussed.
  • Consider leading by example as a way to broach the conversation. You might talk about your own children and how it has forced you to consider various “what if” scenarios and as a result, you’d like to have that same conversation with Mom or Dad. If you haven’t started the process yourself, now is the perfect time to start.

What To Talk About

It often catches family members by surprise just how much there is to consider when it comes to end of life care, managing the paperwork related to wills and estates and even understanding the various tax implications. That’s why financial planning, having a will in place and your desires clearly articulated are so important. It’s one of the final gifts you can give to your family – the gift of ease during a difficult time. Here’s a list of the key items to focus on:

  • Financial Planning. What plans are already in place or need to be put in place to manage your parents care now, in the future and after they are gone?
  • Wills and Estate Planning. Ask if there is a will already in place and if your parents have thought about how they would like to see any assets distributed. If there is no will in place – now is the time to help facilitate the planning process. Some parents will need more help than others. If you have a family lawyer this might be the best place to start or if you need an advisor, ask around amongst trusted family and friends.
  • Start a list. You’ll want to make a list of where all the important papers are located in your parents home, their banking details, who their primary care physician is and whether there is a Power of Attorney in place. Is there a life insurance policy? Investments? Encourage (or help with the process) gathering all the important paperwork in one place for ease of access. Other important considerations might include a list of the medications they are on along with dosages so that you can answer medical questions in the event of an emergency.
  • Be Specific. Are there any treasured family heirlooms or particularly valuable items and if so, are they meant for specific people in the family? Perhaps your loved one has always planned to leave the piano to a grandchild who takes lessons? If that’s the case, encourage specificity in order to avoid potential conflicts after they are gone.
  • Other considerations include: Who is the Executor of any estate and who (if different) is the Substitute Decision Maker for medical care and emergencies? If faith-based traditions are important to your family member, who should be contacted in the event of an emergency and/or how will you incorporate those traditions into their final plans?

According to AARP, more than 90% of older adults think it’s important to talk about end of life care and estate planning but fewer than 27% have actually done so. One of the most common reasons for avoiding the conversation is fear of upsetting a loved one. That fear is understandable because it is a sensitive subject.  When approached with care and concern however, with a focus on the future – managing end of life care in a way that respects your parents wishes AND ensures their estate is handled in the manner THEY have determined is best – will help to ensure your loved one maintains a sense of dignity and control throughout. Our final piece of advice is for YOU. If you are thinking about approaching the topic of death and dying and what comes after with your own parents or beloved family member in order to ease both their mind and yours about “what comes after,” you might want to also consider putting these plans in place for yourself – for the sake of your own children and family if you haven’t already done so. Perhaps you’ll even get a family discount!