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Questions: A Way to Start the Dialogue with your Aging Parents

March 13, 2013

In my last post I asked you to think of some things about your future with your aging parents. Then I promised that I would offer you some questions to explore with them. Today I’ll put forth a few of those questions and probably carry over the same concept in my next post as well.

Are you ready to start having meaningful dialogue with your aging parents? It doesn’t matter what age they are, or what age you are. What is important is that you have common ground, love, respect, and open communication. These questions will help lay the ground work for future planning and hopefully get the entire family talking.

For some reason Americans hesitate to talk about aging, illness, and death. Other countries don’t have such a stigma attached to these issues, but these topics are the largest hurdle in keeping families in sync and communicating as the parents age. If you address these topics and integrate them into ongoing discussions unexpected events create less panic and chaos, normal aging processes are understood and planned for, and end-of-life issues may already be determined and allow for peaceful transitions.

So let’s get to the questions you can pose to your parents in the course of normal conversation:

  • What do you see your life being like in your 60s, 70s, 80s, or 90s? This questions allows you to explore the hobbies, preferences, dreams, and desires of you parents. Say your parents are now in their late 50s and live in upstate NY because of dad’s employment. You may be under the assumption they would choose to remain in that area. Imagine your surprise when they tell you they want to move to rural New Mexico and spend their time exploring the desert after building a small straw bale/adobe home.  🙂
  • Where do you see yourself living? Geographical area and type of home? Continuing with our previous scenario where you live in upstate NY and have been raised there by your parents it comes as quite a surprise to discover they have an interest in the desert. You never knew they were even aware of straw bale houses. Imagine the fun you can have with them as you explore why they chose NM and what they know about straw bale/adobe homes. Consider exploring the subject further in later years to see if they still like living in their adobe home or whether they might consider moving to assisted living while still healthy and independent. Ask what their wishes would be if they were to become too frail, sick, or incapacitated to live on their own.

The conversation on these subjects can change as your parents age. Maybe at retirement they want that adobe home in the desert. Then seven or eight years later mom passes on from a sudden illness and dad is left alone. He no longer wants to remain in the adobe home. If you’ve kept the dialogue going over the years in a calm, supportive manner you may know that now he wants to move in with you and your family, but that if he becomes incapacitated he has long-term care insurance that will cover a stay in a long-term care facility. 

  • How much do you anticipate it will cost you per year to live in your chosen environment? When asking your parents this question (and the next few as well) it is important that they understand that you are not delving into their personal financial business, but you want them to think about the subject. They do not need to give you a dollar amount as an answer to the question.
  • Is there adequate retirement savings to sustain that lifestyle and for how many years? Again, this is meant to get your parents thinking about this subject. It’s a good time to suggest a visit to a financial planner if they haven’t already taken that step.
  • Has a decision been made about a Durable Power of Attorney for business and financial matters? Each parent should have another individual who can legally carry on their affairs in the event of sudden death or incapacity. This saves the family time and money and significant amounts of stress in an unexpected event. I highly recommend that there be a second person named as the alternate in case the original individual named is unable to meet the need at the time. (Example: mom names dad and dad names mom, but they both end up in an accident where one dies and the other is in a coma. Someone else needs to handle the business and financial affairs and this would be the alternate.) Remember, as long as your parent is alert and able to make their own decisions these assignments can be rescinded if necessary. It is good to re-address who is the named party as Power of Attorney when events in life change. The original person named may move away so naming someone closer would be advisable or a grandchild graduates with a law degree and your parents wish to change the named person to him/her because of their profession.Encourage your parents to have an attorney assist them in setting up their paperwork for assignment of a Power of Attorney so that all bases are covered.
  • Have issues such as life insurance been addressed to cover any financial obligations in the event of death? This is an area many individuals overlook. While your parents are relatively young they may need more life insurance to cover a mortgage, credit card debt, outstanding school loans, etc. in the event of their death. As they age however, they may not have (hopefully they do not have) such a high debt load so they could decrease the amount of life insurance they have unless they expect it to be part of an inheritance for their children. Again, these are subjects that are best discussed with a financial advisor  or an attorney whom they trust.

As I look through the questions posted and the comments I’ve added I see that this type of post can go on for the next two or three posts so I will address more in the coming weeks.

Do you have an area of interest or a question you would like to see addressed in a future post? Do you have any advice or a comment on this post? Please feel free to add to the comments.

Thank you for reading my blog and sharing this with those who might have an interest.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 14, 2013 10:53 am

    Thank you Laura for this great post.

    Such an important conversation to have! I know first hand that it would have been a lot easier to do this 20 years ago. I actually did attempt this at one point around 10 years ago, and my parents didn’t want to talk about it, saying they had a will and that was that. I do wish I had pressed it more, knowing what we are going through now. And it’s a lesson for me as a parent to make sure that my daughter is prepared when my husband and I get to retirement age, and even before.

    Laura your point on culture is well taken. Not my parents fault for not discussing by the way. It’s a matter of pride sometimes, or admiting our mortality, that no one in this country wants to face.

    Thank you for contuing to provide such helpful information- I’m going to use what I can now to make the best decsions for myself, and to help my parents and the rest of my family

    • March 14, 2013 12:01 pm

      Hi Patty,
      Thanks so much for your comment. It is very important that everyone involved understands that there is no fault or blame when the discussions haven’t been developed. Most people in their later years of life are very private people. As boomers with aging parents we sometimes tend to forget that. One of my goals is to sensitize the adult children to the resistance their parents feel about these discussions and provide tips to ease into the discussion.

      the first step is for the adult children to think about the questions and then present them in a manner that fits with their family. Each individual set of parents may react differently to the questions so this first step is vital.

      You hit the nail on the head though with another purpose of my posts. That is to get the adult children now thinking about these issues and putting plans in place now so their children don’t have to deal with the same resistance from you as you age.

      More questions will be presented in the next few blog posts. Overall, we need to get past our fear of talking about aging and end-of-life. This fear is pervasive throughout our American society. If I can educate even a few people on how beneficial these discussions can be then I will feel that I have accomplished something great in this life.

      Take care and thanks for commenting.

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