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The Critical Conversation No One Wants, but Everyone Needs

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If you’ve listened to our AgingOptions radio programs or attended our AgingOptions events, you know the great emphasis we place on family communication when it comes to retirement. So many problems can be avoided in retirement if aging parents and their adult children can get on the same page about planning for the future! Yet because issues of aging can be a delicate topic, too many adult kids won’t bring it up, and too many parents choose to avoid it altogether. The resulting conspiracy of silence dooms all too many families to a future of strife, dissension and even courtroom battles when parents start to decline or have passed away.

It seems that every few months there’s another round of headlines describing adult children battling with spouses and former spouses over the money left behind by some recently-deceased celebrity, or by someone famous who has declined into dementia. One of the best known recent cases was that of Casey Kasem, whose deteriorating mental health and eventual death in 2014 triggered a battle royal that was played out in the press. Despite being worth more than $80 million, this sad celebrity was denied the privilege of spending his declining years in his own home, something that could easily have been achieved with the right planning and preparation ahead of time. That’s what frustrates us here at AgingOptions: these family wars can almost always be avoided!

With that in mind, we call your attention to this very interesting article that just appeared on the financial website Motley Fool. The title says it all: “So Awkward, So Necessary: Important Discussions to Have With Your Aging Parents.” The author, financial writer Mary Crawley, writes, “Talking with your parents about estate planning is probably one of the last things you’re interested in doing. But not having that discussion is far worse, as avoiding it can leave you in the dark about your parents’ plans, assuming they have them in the first place.”

Author Crawley lists “five things in particular everyone should talk with their aging parents about.” Her list as reported in the article includes legal documents, the location of important papers, long-term care plans, your parents’ living situation, and what she calls “the real reason you’re asking them such personal questions.” While this basic list is a good place to start, we feel there are important questions missing. But before we cover our recommendations, here are a few highlights from hers.

  • Legal Papers: Gallup reports that only 44 percent of Americans have prepared a will. The Motley Fool article suggests you should make sure your parents have not only a will but also a trust, some form of health care proxy, a living will outlining their end of life wishes, and a durable power of attorney so your parents’ affairs can be managed if they are incapacitated.
  • Other Important Documents: “Do you have any idea where your parents keep their important paperwork,” asks Crawley – real estate deeds, car titles, bank records and so on? Our guess is that when the time comes that you need these critical papers your parents might not be in any condition to help you find them. The article lists several key documents you should ask your parents to gather, and then store them together in a safe place to which you have access. “You don’t want to end up searching through their home for paperwork while you are grieving or stressed,” writes Crawley.
  • Long Term Care Planning and Living Arrangements: The Family Caregiver Alliance reports that more than two-thirds of seniors who are 65-plus will develop some form of disability and more than one-third will enter a nursing home. The time to think about both the financial and the emotional burden of long-term care is now, not when you’re in a crisis. You also need to have a realistic conversation about Mom and Dad’s future housing desires: is staying at home realistic? Would they want to downsize, or move to be closer to other family members? Are they considering a retirement residence? This is where the services of a well-informed third party such as our partner company Better Care Management can prove invaluable as you evaluate options for your aging parents.

We disagree with the Motley Fool article in one key area: the article implies that you can successfully have this type of critical family conversation on your own. In our view, that’s a mistake. Not only will you need a professional to guide the discussion, but you also need to make certain that person is well organized and thorough so that you cover all the important bases without getting trapped in an emotional minefield. When we at AgingOptions conduct a family conference, we explore a broad range of issues. We ask about the parents’ housing aspirations and desires as they age. We talk openly about the role the seniors want their family to play in their future care. We go over the estate planning documents, not necessarily in detail, but in a general way so the family knows what legal framework has been established. We talk about everything from who the executor of the estate will eventually be to how a parent wants his or her remains handled after death. As Rajiv Nagaich says, “These are not easy discussions to have on your own. But unlike a family member, a professional can open a very awkward door and the rest is much easier.”

Finally, and most important, you want Mom and Dad know you’re not bringing these matters up in order to hasten their demise or collect your inheritance, but because you love them and you care about honoring their wishes. “Families delay having these conversations because, let’s face it, it’s hard to talk about the fact that someday our parents will die,” says the Motley Fool article. Your goal is to honor their wishes and choices for their future by discussing them now while they are able-minded and healthy. Above all, don’t procrastinate. Because you love your parents and care about their well-being, you need to have this difficult conversation now. We hope you’ll call our office and schedule a family meeting very soon. We’d be honored to serve you.

Our advice to anyone who wants both input and control over their retirement is to seek out the services of a professional guide, one who knows the terrain and who can help you achieve your goals and dreams. That’s what we do here at AgingOptions, with the power of a planning process we call LifePlanning. In just a few hours at a free LifePlanning seminar, we’ll show you how financial, legal, housing, medical and family planning all work together, allowing you to enjoy a secure and fulfilling future as you age. We invite you to come to a free AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar soon! Click here for details and online registration, or call us during the week. And as we said above, don’t procrastinate – you have nothing to lose except your fears for the future. Age on!

(originally reported at

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