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Talk Tips You Need for Aging Loved Ones Who Need Planning

By September 25, 2013No Comments

Well, it starts like this…

About a month ago, a friend’s husband came home from his evening workout at the gym with a look that wasn’t his usual “victory!” or “whipped puppy” face. She told me he looked deeply distraught, so she patted the area next to her on the sofa, turned off the TV, and asked, “What’s wrong?”

He then told her about how one of our nicest neighbors, who was only 48 years old and in outwardly good health, bicycled to the gym that morning for his usual work out and minutes later collapsed from a heart attack and died right there. Our neighbor had a lovely wife and son who was a high school senior. At 48, he was assuredly looking forward to more graduations and maybe grandchildren. But for him it wasn’t to be and 48 is not old.

I have more tragic stories but will stop this one here and say that this is a good place to start “the conversation” with parents or loved ones who you know need planning. Also, you should plan to have more than one of these conversations if you really want to see the most positive results – a plan prepared that brings peace of mind to your loved ones now and later.

So that’s how you start the conversation – with a scary story.

Mom has the velvet hammer. The next question is who do you start the conversation with? Let’s say both parents are living and still together; well, you start with the parent or family member who is most persuasive in obtaining results that affect the entire family.

Dad, can you pass me the embalming fluid? You must also decide when the conversation should take place. I wouldn’t suggest having a discussion about death at the dinner table. Nor would I suggest entering into it like an intervention. This is a difficult topic already, so don’t make it more difficult. Start the sharing when you usually share stories about your day or your friends’ days but away from the dinner table.

What if you never really shared before? Write a letter then start sharing.

Planting the seed. When you do share a scary story, one of 2 things will happen: Either your loved one will want to know more or he or she will express sympathy and change the subject. If Mom or Dad wants to know more, then pick the tone up with whatever positive note you know, such as, “Yes it’s sad, but at least he had life insurance and a will.” Then stop. Of course, the logical progression is, “So Dad, do you have a will?” But by stopping and changing the subject yourself, you’ve done what my mother calls, “planted the seed.”

Now Mom or Dad may want to continue the conversation, which is what we really want. But if he or she doesn’t, we must let it be. The seed has been planted. Next, it simply needs nurturing.

Mom, meet The Joneses. We nurture the seed by watering the soil and waiting about a week or 2. After that time has passed, we bring up a related topic about one of their close friends or relatives who is in a comparable financial situation. This presumes that we know something about the friend’s or relative’s financial situation. It could be something similar to, “I ran into Ms. Jones the other day and she told me about the vacation home she and Mr. Jones just bought.” Then continue talking about how their children really enjoy being able to have a nice place to stay when they want to enjoy their “down time.”

If the Joneses don’t nudge them into further conversation, somebody will – maybe you. Parents are proud when their children achieve more than they, but parents also want to be recognized for “knowing” or “experiencing” more along the lines of wisdom. So if you, his or her “child” has enough about herself to have a solid power of attorney, then surely “the tree will ensure that this document is in place so as to affirm the apple’s lineage.” Thus, as I said, having the conversation actually means having a series of conversations. This allows you to gently uncover any uneasiness and fears in a comfortable and safe environment.

However, what if time is of the essence? Mom or Dad’s health is declining and action is needed sooner rather than later. We must then step out of ourselves and, as is often said by professional caregivers, “meet them where they are.” You can do this by imagining yourself at 75 or 85 years of age. You’re not as strong; you’re not as fast; and your income potential is 1/10th of what it once was. Friends and family members are dying and it is becoming more and more difficult to hide all the silver strands on your body.

By earnestly stepping into the shoes of our aging loved ones, we realize the competing interests that come into play for them. On one hand there is the rational acknowledgment and desire to plan and on the other hand is denial based on fears caused by the ultimate lack of control over their mortality and that they will run out of money.

Losing control is fundamentally a trust issue. And if loved ones don’t trust you, establishing that trust when they are vulnerable is going to be very difficult. This is where we must “meet them where they are.”

Control isn’t just about money, either; also, it’s about dignity. This encompasses bodily integrity, mobility, and ownership and usability of their “stuff.” Here every person is different and respecting what our aging loved ones need to retain a feeling of dignity will, yes, lead to getting them to plan and sign papers. But first thing’s first. Address the issue of their need to control – to feel independent, to maintain their human dignity. Explain why you’re suggesting a caregiver once weekly, or a cane, or a cell phone with big buttons. Explain everything with gentle, non-condescending, dignity affirming language.

Even the most trusting parents, will still need their dignity reaffirmed at a certain point. We all will. Once that trust is established and that dignity reaffirmed, you can begin talking about planning with small items that are most meaningful to them while they are still alive and with a certain mental acuity. For some it involves finances; for others it involves healthcare; and for others it is whatever is easiest to execute.

So that’s how you have The Conversation: start off with a scary story; stop; begin again with a friendly “keeping up with the Joneses” prod; ensure trust is established; reaffirm their dignity; and start off with plans that they can control and implement now.

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