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Having “The Talk”


How do you have “the talk” with your parents about wills, finances, medical care choices, and funerals? 

Elderly parents may be reluctant to face end-of-life issues. This may be due to one of three reasons: procrastination; lack of experience or information; or denial. In all candor, it may be a combination of all three reasons.

Regardless of the "why,” it is both a delicate conversation, and a necessary one. The earlier in life, as a family these topics are openly discussed, the easier it is to approach your parents with this as they age. Unfortunately, many of today’s seniors, were raised not to discuss these issues openly. Don’t be surprised if the first response you hear is, "we've got it under control!"  Sadly, elderly parents sometimes misconstrue their children’s concern as nosiness. Even worse, they may see it as an attempt to take over management of their personal affairs.

Chances are, if you are thinking about asking your parents about their end-of-life plans, your motivation is out of love and concern, rather than greed. In fact, many survey's have uncovered the primary objectives adult children want to have "the talk" are to:

• Honor their parents wishes regarding personal items, medical decisions, and funeral.

• Avoid making hasty and emotional decisions in a crisis moment.

• Prevent overspending, possibly even under spending, due to not knowing their parent’s wishes

Let's assume your parents do have it under control. In case of an emergency, does someone in the family besides them, know "what" decisions have been made, AND where the legal documentation is? All too often, aging parents in good faith, think they have their affairs all buttoned up. However, in reality they have their wishes written down, with no legal binding documents. Conversely, many parents who have met with an attorney, and had their affairs taken care of, typically did not review or update their plan over the years. This scenario, can be equally, if not more problematic! Especially if a divorce has occurred, or the designated executors / beneficiaries have died.

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Are your plans written down?

Key Point. At some point, no matter how awkward this conversation may feel, as an adult child, if your parents have not initiated this dialog, you will have too. Before doing so, please keep in mind that just because your parents are aging or beginning to face health challenges, doesn’t mean that they are insensitive, ignorant, or incapable of decision-making.

Setting the Stage for Your Aging Parents. In today's world, if you listen to the news, there are many opportunities that can be used to set the stage for this type of conversation.

Examples of this are:

• September 11th.

• Random school and mall shootings.

• Karen Quinlen (Kept alive for years due to not having advance directives.)

If you are not willing use headline news to have this type of conversation with your parents, try engaging them. That doesn’t mean that saying over coffee, “Could you please pass me the creamer, and oh, by the way, have you thought about what will happen if one of you gets sick and has to go into a nursing home or dies?” Nor does it mean grilling your parents with questions and putting them on the spot.

Engaging them, means using leading questions to guide the conversation gently toward this topic in a non-confrontational manner. Your questions should be thought-provoking, and should pave the way for future conversations.

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You can learn alot about about your parents over coffee.

Leading Questions to Initiate "The Talk.” One idea, is to introduce the topic by placing the focus on yourself (use the national news as reason for you to begin initiate your own planning). Tell your parents, that you were thinking about your own mortality. Naturally, this lead you to start thinking about estate-planning issues. Then, ask them for some advice.

Discuss in a conversational manor:

• Their feelings on medical advance directives.

• How they feel about the refusal of life support?

• Do they have a living will?

• Is there a durable power of attorney in place?

• If they are on medications, is there a list somewhere of what they are on?

• What type of hospital they prefer? A local one, or would travel to a teaching hospital?

This is an excellent place to start. Why? The focus is not on their “things” or their money. It also will give you insight into how organized they are.

Getting a your parents to discuss their living wishes, is much easier than entering into a discussion about his death. This also breaks the ice for future conversations, and forces your parents to realize that others need to be aware of their wishes. They will be more forthcoming if you approach it from the standpoint of wanting to be helpful in a crisis.

Once you have an overview of their planning, you'll want to take it a step further with both of your parents.  Your lead-in question could be something like, “Dad, have you ever thought about what will happen if Mom outlives you?” Once you have asked that, be quiet! Even if it’s a long few moments of silence, let your parent process the question. The less you say, the more you will learn.

Observe your parent’s body language. If his arms are folded and he looks surprised or defensive, it’s clear that you have caught him completely off guard. Proceed with caution! Let them noodle it around for a few days.

Once you’ve gotten the dialog going, you can transition to questions like:

“Have you taken care of your estate?”

“Do you have a will?” If the response is yes, ask them where it is and what to do if something should happen to them both.

Keep the Conversation Going by Asking all Kinds of “What If” Questions. In closing, think back to when they had to have "the talk" with you as a teenager. No parent looks forward to talking to their child about puberty or where babies come from. If you are reading this and are worried about your parents, it's clear you both survived it!

"Talking about sex won't make you pregnant, talking about death, won't make you die!” — Gail Ruben

If you found this blog article helpful, consider purchasing the Second Edition of Navigating the Eldercare Journey…Without Going Broke! In this book, not only are their action plans and check lists, for those who purchase the book, there is a free downloadable workbook.

Visit one of Clock Funeral Homes' three locations at 1469 Peck St. in Muskegon, (231) 722-3721; 16777 Lincoln in Grand Haven, (616) 844-4200; or 3592 Pontaluna Rd. in Fruitport, (231) 865 6151. The website contains useful information about services, planning, and more. Information about sister company Clock Timeless Pets is at To purchase Navigating the Elder Care Journey…Without Going Broke! by Jodi Clock, get info about it, plus tips and news to help you plan for your future and the future of your family, by subscribing here.

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