10 Tips for Talking to Your Aging Parents
Sitting down with your parents to discuss legal, financial, and long-term care issues can be uncomfortable. Adult children often do not know much about their parents’ financial situation, whether they have enough money to live on, or to pay for the care they would want. Often, families have not had discussions about how they view the end of their lives, and what preparations they have made.
For most of us it is hard to face the fact that our parents, the people that took care of us, are getting older and may need assistance in decision making and caring for themselves.
It is also difficult to ask questions about finances. These tips will provide you with communications strategies and considerations for these important discussions and may help in opening dialogue with your parents.
- Start Discussions Early
Don’t wait until it is too late. While your parents are still in good health, use the opportunity to start the conversation. Perhaps an item that appears in the newspaper, or a friend or relative’s illness can be the opening to start a dialogue. Once your parents develop a serious illness or are unable to make decisions for themselves, it is much more difficult to have this kind of conversation.
- Include Other Family Members
Bring other family members into the discussions with your parents, but first determine whether they have different opinions that would undermine what you are trying to accomplish. Get all the issues on the table and gather support from siblings and other relatives.
- Explain The Purpose of Your Conversation
Let your parents know you are concerned about them, and that you want to do the right thing for them as they age. This will help them better understand why you are bringing up sensitive issues.
- Understand Your Parents’ Needs to Control Their Own Lives
It is important to remember that your parents have the right to make their own decisions. At some point, you may need to balance your parents’ independence with their safety, but try not to take away their sense of control over their own lives.
- Agree to Disagree
Your heart may tell you that you are right, and that you know what needs to be done, but you and your parents may disagree with each other. Do not try and bully your way through. Their wishes should prevail unless their health or safety is in question.
- Use Good Communication Skills
It will be more effective if you offer options and not advice. Remember to ask for your parents’ ideas. Express your concerns rather than telling them what they should do. Listen and don’t be afraid of silence. Use open ended questions that foster discussion rather than closed questions that are answered with a “yes” or “no”.
- Ask About Records and Documentation
Know where your parents’ insurance policies, wills, health care proxies, living wills, trust documents, tax returns, and investments and banking records are located. You can start by asking your parents where they keep their papers, and whom you should contact in the case they are in an accident, or are incapacitated. It may be difficult to ask directly about financial and legal matters, and this approach may provide you with an opening to discuss what provisions have been made, and what may need to be done.
- Provide Information
Your parents may not have enough information about services and legal and financial options that may be available to them. You can play an important role by serving as a resource to them, and by providing materials for them to read. As they look over the materials there may be opportunities to open a dialogue.Your parents may be eligible for government programs. Check benefitscheckup.org for assistance for people over 55. You might find that they are eligible for benefits that will help pay for prescription drugs, health care utilities, and other essential items or services.
- Re-Evaluate if Things Are Not Working Well
If you find that the conversations are not going well, try to assess what is going wrong. Perhaps you are not coming across the way you thought you were. Or perhaps you just do not have enough information at hand. You might suggest that your parents talk with a third party- a geriatric care manager, a financial planner or a lawyer- if you think that they could use some expert assistance.
- Treat Your Parents With Respect
Your parents have lived a long time, and have learned a great deal during their lives. They may have made great sacrifices to give you the life you have. While old age can be a rewarding time, it is also often a time of loss- of loved ones, of health, and of independence. Treat your parents with love and respect and reassure them that you will be there for them as they age.