My parents are getting older, and I am concerned about how my siblings and I are going to be able to take care of them while taking care of our own families. How can I broach the topic with my parents without upsetting them?
Starting the conversation with your parents is a tricky thing. They are already anxious about approaching or being in their golden years. Many of their friends in their age-group may be sick or have died, and this is a sobering reminder of one’s own mortality. It is challenging to approach this issue without having some people feel like you are rushing them to their grave.
I advise my clients to approach the topic slowly and with sensitivity. Sometimes framing it in a way that makes your parents think that they are doing you a favor is helpful. Some examples:
“Dad, you know, Bob and I went to see an estate planning attorney to get our estate planning documents in order. She advised us to let our family know where we keep our documents. It made me think that I don’t know where you keep any of your documents. Would you be willing to talk about this with me?”
“Mom, a friend of mine is in a nasty lawsuit with her brother over their dad’s estate because his affairs weren’t in order. I’d really hate to have that happen with my siblings and I’m sure you wouldn’t want your legacy to be us having an irreparable rift after you’re gone. Can we have an open discussion about this when you’re ready?”
Once you’ve benignly introduced the topic at an appropriate time (i.e., not Thanksgiving or Christmas!), below are some topics and questions you might want to use to get the conversation started — just not all at the same time:
Financial and legal
“Do you have a last will and testament? A health care proxy? A power of attorney? Where do you keep the originals? Who should we contact?”
If your parents don’t have those documents, ask, “Would you consider meeting with someone to get those documents in place?”
“Who do you want to handle your financial affairs in an emergency or if your health fails?”
“Do you have a financial planner? Would you like to meet with one?”
Note: this is a much “softer” way to approach the assets, as opposed to “where is your money!”
A study from a few years back found that almost 30 percent of adult children are financially supporting their parents. Retirement calculators available online can help you determine whether your parents have sufficient assets to meet their objectives. This will not be resolved in a single conversation but will require multiple discussions over a period of time. Try to involve your siblings in the conversation so everyone is on board.
“Would you consider giving your doctor permission to talk to me and my siblings about your health in case we have questions?”
“Can any of us come with you to your doctor appointments?”
“If, god forbid, something happened where we couldn’t communicate with you, what is your feeling about being kept alive through artificial means like ventilators, artificial feeding tubes, or respirators? In what type of situation would you want or not want those medical technologies used to keep you alive?”
“Where do you want to continue to live? Do you want to stay in your house? Are you willing to move into a smaller house?”
“If you need assistance would you rather move in with one of your children, or would you prefer hiring someone to help you at home?”
Don’t be surprised if your first attempts are met with defensiveness and resistance. Also don’t be surprised if your parent comes back to you a few weeks later and says, “You know, I had this great idea: why don’t we go look at an assisted living facility?”
The trick to these conversations is letting your parents get there in their own time, but before a crisis happens. If they feel they are still in control and making their own decisions the stress of a difficult conversation can be alleviated.
Alison Arden Besunder is the founding attorney of the law firm of Arden Besunder P.C., where she assists new and not-so-new parents with their estate planning needs. Her firm assists clients in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Nassau, and Suffolk Counties. You can find Besunder on Twitter @estatetrustplan and on her website at www.besun