Do you find yourself worrying about your aging parents? Perhaps you’re concerned about whether they’re adequately prepared for their later years. Or maybe you don’t know what their final wishes are. Many parents have to deal with tricky conversations with their children. However, you don’t necessarily expect it to be the other way around. It just doesn’t seem right, does it? I mean they are our parents! That said, I’m a firm believer in having these conversations while everyone is of sound mind and ahead of any unexpected events. Read on for important questions to ask aging parents. I’ll also give you some tips on how you can tactfully approach these difficult topics.
Why You Need To Have The Conversation Now
As we know, death and taxes are two of life’s certainties. When it comes to our parents though, it’s hard to even contemplate that reality. But it is inevitable. However, you don’t want to find yourself in the situation where you receive the dreaded phone call, especially with parents who are on their own, having no idea what their wishes are. They may be taken ill suddenly or suffer a bad fall, no longer able to help themselves. It will be down to you to jump in and act quickly. What do they want me to do? How will they pay for it? Where are they going to live? Who will care for them? Figuring out a game plan for end-of-life events should help your parents (and you!) to relax and enjoy their golden years, without that additional burden.
Let’s talk money
Finances are probably the most important area that we should be discussing with our parents, but possibly the most sensitive. If your parents get to the point where they’re unable to pay their bills or pay for their house, they could be in serious trouble. In order to be able to step in and help, it’s important to gather as much information as possible about their financial situation.
Some important things for you to find out from your parents:
- Current income and expenses
- Bank accounts and credit card details including online passwords
- Insurance policies (life, home, auto, medical and disability)
- Mortgages, titles, and deeds
- Contact details for professionals dealing with any of the above (maybe even attend meetings together?)
- Will – where it is and who the executor is. Confirm it’s up to date.
- Beneficiary Designations – are they up to date? They need to be as they trump the Will.
- What is their overall Estate Plan? Do they have a Trust?
- Where are all the financial documents kept?
More generally, it may be useful for you and your parents to speak to a financial planner. Do they have enough money to live on? Are they able to pay for extended health care or assisted living if needed?
Another thing to consider is for your parents to appoint a durable power of attorney. This is someone (possibly you) who can handle their finances among other things when they are incapacitated or no longer able to make decisions on their own. This gives peace of mind that matters of finance and health will be in safe hands.
In good health
We all hope our parents live a long and healthy life. However, the reality is many will eventually become too ill or frail to look after themselves. For this reason, it’s important to look at their current and long-term health plans. It’s essential to ensure they have everything they need to be well looked after.
Here are a few things that you’ll need to find out now:
- Current doctors – are they happy with them?
- Current medications – any side effects or allergies? Are they able to take them on their own? Which pharmacy do they use?
- Health insurance – are they adequately covered? Medicare starts at 65 but they probably need to invest in supplemental cover.
- Do they have an Advance Medical Directive? This will state their requirements with regard to life-support measures. Do they want to be kept alive with ventilators and feeding tubes?
- Medical documents – where are they kept?
Home sweet home
Most people will want to stay in their own house for as long as possible. However, there will come a time when they’ll need to make changes or even move. You may find your parents become very frail or even disabled, and their movement becomes restricted. This is a good time to make some changes to their home to ensure they are comfortable and safe.
This could simply involve adding handrails and night-lights. Installing a stair lift may be a safer option than worrying about them walking up and down stairs. How about moving their bedroom to the first floor, if it isn’t already? I’m sure they’ll be relieved at not having to keep climbing all those stairs!
Downsizing to a smaller property may be a useful step to take. Your parents may find this easier than trying to stay in (and maintain!) the big ol’ family home you used to live in as a child. In addition, hiring some in-home help could be useful to allow them to retain their independence for as long as possible. If it becomes too much for them, they may need to consider moving in with family or into an assisted-living facility where they will have constant care.
Possibly the most upsetting topic of all to bring up will be what they want to happen at the end of their life. These are some extremely difficult and painful questions that need to be answered before it gets to the point where they’re too ill to let you know.
- Do they want to be resuscitated if the situation arises? If they are extremely ill, this may not be in their best interest.
- Do they want to be cremated or buried? Where?
- What kind of funeral/memorial do they want?
Some of these things will probably already be included in their will, but it may be useful for them to discuss their wishes with you whilst they are able to. Maybe they’ll find this easier to express if they write you a letter.
A useful resource that covers all of these areas, is this Planning Guide from AARP. It includes helpful tips on how to start the conversation, and what actions to take, including printable forms and checklists.
It’s time to bite the bullet
Thanksgiving is just around the corner. You will likely be gathered together with your family: siblings and parents around the table tucking into a delicious feast. Could this be the opportunity you’ve been waiting for?
If you feel it’s the right place and time, and the mood is conducive, why not start to gently open the lines of communication? Look for a way to break the ice. You could disguise it as asking them to give you advice on your future and then turn it around to their situation.
Another ‘trick’ could be to say you saw a report about planning for later in life, what do they think about it? You’ll figure out a way to steer the conversation. As long as you’re sensitive and thoughtful, it shouldn’t be too difficult.
If your parents are stubborn and not open to discussing it with you, it could be that they’re worried about being a burden. It’s important to talk about what they would like to do to help themselves, rather than what you are going to do for them. They will probably want to feel like they are still in control. It should be more of a partnership than you trying to parent them.
The most important thing is to listen. Try to put yourselves in their shoes; well you will be one day anyway! Be gentle and understanding, and if it helps then just try tackling it with a sense of humor!
In a nutshell
No doubt, these are some difficult topics to think about, let alone talk about. As daunting as it may feel, especially if your parents are still in good health and active, it’s important to reach out and make that first move. It may be one conversation or it may be many conversations you have with them. As long as you discuss it, and start helping them to get things in order now, it will make for a smoother ride further down the line.
Printing out a copy of the free ‘Just In Case’ checklist I created could help guide the conversation. This document lists out important information and contacts that are useful in case of an emergency. It would be very helpful for your parents to have all this information in one place so you don’t have to waste time tracking everything down.
You may also want to share this information on Pre-Planning Your Funeral. While it’s not a subject anyone relishes discussing, it may just help you and your parents figure out their final wishes and how they would like to be remembered and celebrated. Knowing these things in advance takes the pressure off grieving family and helps everything go a little more smoothly when the time comes.
While you’re enjoying your Thanksgiving, keep these thoughts in mind. Look out for the perfect opportunity to raise the subject and then go for it. Help your parents to help themselves be organized, prepared and ultimately worry-free.
You can then all breathe a huge sigh of relief!