As parents age, they encounter a number of issues that younger people usually don’t think about. They must make decisions on their wishes for health care, how their estate will be divided, who will be named as the executor on their will, who will be in charge of their health care decisions in the event that they are unable to be, where they will live when they are unable to care for themselves, and what will become of their bodies upon death.
These decisions can be very sensitive, but they are extremely important, too. Understanding what your parents want is something that you need to talk about. As such, communicating with your aging parent is key.
Why Communicating with Elderly Parents Matters
Communicating with elderly parents now, while they are in good health, and as they age, is a key part of preserving a healthy and loving relationship between you, your parents, and other members of your family. When communication channels break down, people may feel hurt, betrayed, or forgotten. Failure to communicate may result in:
- Arguments between siblings about what parents really want, how an estate should be divided and who should get what, or who should be in charge of making decisions.
- Parents feeling as though their wishes have been disrespected or their needs have been forgotten.
- Dangerous situations for parents who are aging and unable to care for themselves. For example, communication about the need for a nursing home or to cease driving may all be necessary.
In many cases, failing to communicate may also have legal consequences. For example, if you are under the impression that one thing will happen as your parents age, but their will or advance directive says otherwise, this can create a legally complex problem, as well as an emotional one. Or, if your parents are involved in a sudden accident and you have not communicated with them about where they keep important documents ─ such as a will, tax returns, etc. ─ distributing an estate may be significantly delayed.
Tips for Talking to Aging Parents
Again, some of the subjects that you may need to broach with your parents will be emotional, touchy, and even controversial.
Here are some tips for talking with your aging parents:
- Give them a head’s up. Rather than springing a conversation on them out of the blue about an important issue – like the creation of a will and what it will say – tell them that you have been thinking about the issue and would like to have a conversation about it in the near future. Set a date and a time that you can talk about the issue. This way, everyone has a chance to prepare.
- Invite a neutral third party. If you are planning to discuss a stressful issue with your parents – like the fact that you think it might be time that they stop driving for good, or who should be named as their power of attorney – it may be helpful to invite a neutral third party to serve as a mediator to the conversation, suggests The Delaware Gazette’s contributing columnist Bob Horrocks. The party that you invite can be a trusted family friend, a social worker, a clergyman or church member, or even an attorney. The job of this person is to encourage positive dialogue among parties and ensure that everyone gets a chance to voice their opinion in a fair and constructive manner.
- Address all of the important issues. The issues that are important for your family may vary, but in general, make sure you address the following:
- Your parents’ wishes for end-of-life care
- Finances and funding for end-of-life care (for example, how to pay for a nursing home)
- How an estate will be divided
- The existence of a trust
- Power of attorney for health care and finances
- Where important documents are kept
- Advance directive
- After-life decisions, such as burial and funeral instructions
- Empathize and listen. It can be extremely difficult to know what’s really going on with aging parents. What may appear clear to you may be interpreted much differently by your elderly mom or dad. For example, if it seems clear to you that your parents need a home health care aid, but they are heavily resisting this, it may be because the emotional process of accepting help is taxing, they fear an invasion of their privacy, or they do not wish to be a burden on another person. An article in Science Daily suggests that many older adults struggle with losing the independence and life that they once had. Remember that you cannot fully understand what they are going through, but you can offer your love, support, and empathy. Also remember that at the end of the day, even if you disagree about what is to be done, a positive relationship is the most important thing to prioritize.
Contact Our Experienced Elder Care Planning Attorneys
Elder care is a subject that most people want to stay away from. However, making a plan now while your elderly loved one is still cognitively and physically able to do so can make all the difference down the road. When you talk to aging parents and know what they want, you can rest assured that you are fulfilling their wishes as they age or when they are no longer here. This can take the pressure off of you and your other family members, and make the entire process less emotionally wearing.
At Chiumento Dwyer Hertel Grant, we understand the importance of elder care planning. If you have questions about the creation of an elder care plan and how to protect your loved one’s best interests – either as an elderly person or as the adult child of an elderly person – we can help. For a free case consultation, contact us today online or by phone.