Do you remember being a kid and feeling like you’d never grow up? Being an adult and making your own decisions about life seemed so far away, but the time arrived in what felt like the blink of an eye. How’d it happen so fast? As the years pass, you’ll eventually come to another realization; your parents are getting older too.
As a child, you kind of assume your parents will always be there taking care of things. The thought of them developing health concerns, or needing your help, doesn’t enter your mind. But then you start noticing they need more frequent assistance and find yourself wondering how much help you’ll be able to provide, and for how long. This season of life can be stressful, but even more so if your parents haven’t made known what their wishes would be if they were to fall ill or pass away. You can avoid unnecessary stress by having those discussions now, rather than hoping you’ll have time later.
These kinds of conversations are uncomfortable, which is why they often never happen. Discussing end-of-life wishes, power of attorney, and wills aren’t things we enjoy talking about, but neglecting them doesn’t make the discomfort disappear, it just postpones it. In fact, waiting until a crisis occurs usually makes it much worse. If you can push past the discomfort, and initiate these conversations, everyone involved will have the peace of mind that comes from knowing you’re prepared for what may come.
Topics to discuss
Healthcare: Do they have sufficient healthcare in place?
Living arrangements if extra care is needed: If they need daily assistance, where could they live? Assisted living facility? If advanced care is needed, are nursing homes an option? If so, which one(s)? How will it be paid for?
If there’s a medical emergency, do they have an advanced healthcare directive or living will?: Have they made an official and legal declaration for someone to make decisions on their behalf if they’re unable to advocate for themselves? Do you know their wishes regarding life support?
Do they have a will?: If not, what are next steps? Do you know how they wish for their estate to be distributed? (Hint: verbal conversations aren’t enough.) Do you know who has been named executor? Do you know where the will and other important papers are located?
Do they have life insurance policies?: Do you know what to do when your parent(s) pass away? Do you know where the policies are located?
These are heavy topics to be sure, but dealing with them now will save your family a huge amount of stress and heartache later. If something were to happen to your parents, the last thing you’ll want to think about is wondering what they wanted. Have the conversations now and remove all the guesswork.
Here are a few tips to help you:
- Be Patient & Empathetic
Your parents have spent their lives taking care of things on their own. It may not be easy for them to accept help, especially at first. Expect some resistance and give them grace, but don’t let them postpone the conversation indefinitely. Exercise empathy and put yourself in their shoes. You may wish to solve the problem and move on, but your parents need to maintain a sense of control and dignity.
- The Earlier the Better
If your parents were to have a medical emergency, they may be in no condition to talk about their wishes. Better to discuss those things now when they’re not under duress.
- Prepare in Advance
It’s possible your parents may not know what their options are. Prioritize what you need to discuss, and then do some research in order to have the necessary information they can act upon. This tip alone will help speed things along and make the conversation less stressful for everyone.
- Involve Your Siblings
If you have brothers or sisters, be sure to include them in these discussions. Focus on the best interests of your parents and come to a resolution so that you avoid potential disfigures in the future.
The most important thing you can do is really listen to your parents. What do they want? What are their goals?
- No Pressure
Your goal is to be compassionate and understanding. Be sure to present your points and express your concerns without being forceful.
- Take Notes
Take careful and detailed notes. You probably won’t cover everything in one conversation, so take notes during your conversations so that nothing is forgotten. This will also help future conversations be more productive.
- Get Help
You’ll probably need some professional guidance for some of these things. Find an experienced and dependable lawyer to help you create important documents like a power of attorney or wills.
Finally, take notes and follow up.
You’ll cover a lot of ground during these conversations, so it’s a good idea to take notes. After your meeting, create an action plan for what needs to be done and a date when you will get together and follow up on everything.
Once you’ve taken care of things, and have all the appropriate paperwork and information, assemble it all into a Life Binder. You can create this using a three-ring binder, or a portable file box. Organize and store it in a place where everyone knows its location. In times of emergency, you’ll have one place you can go to and consult for any information you need.
Although these are serious topics, it doesn’t mean discussing them has to be a negative experience. Plan a barbecue or dinner together in advance, with the specific purpose of taking care of these things. Acknowledge openly that though the subject matter may be somber, the time you spend together doesn’t have to be. The nature and atmosphere of the experience is up to you, so set the expectation that your time together will be enjoyable as well as productive. In the end, you’re doing this because you love your family, and so long as that’s the driving force behind your actions, you can’t go wrong.
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