DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!
Jul 25 2018

Having The Conversation

by Camille B

“Hey Dad, how’s the game? Oh, and do you want to be buried or cremated? And how much money are you leaving me?”

As I read these words in a CBS’s MoneyWatch article, I had a hard time keeping a straight face. Even though the underlying tone was a somber one, I couldn’t help but imagine the look of horror on the father’s face at his son’s question. It did, however, make me stop to think about how I would broach a subject like this myself if I had to.

In a nationwide survey, ninety-percent of people who responded said that they knew they should have a talk with a family member about end-of-life care and becoming power of attorney- but only 30 percent of them actually had. Some of the reasons given were: their loved-one wasn’t sick yet, the subject made them uncomfortable, they didn’t want to upset their loved-one, or the time just never seemed right.

But research has shown it can be equally upsetting for grieving family members who are left behind with no clear directives to follow. In this situation, they are now unsure of whether they’re fulfilling their loved-one’s last wishes or not- not to mention the family spats and arguments that can erupt out of nowhere. 

Let’s face it, family members don’t always behave the way we expect them to behave.  The passing of a loved-one can bring out the worse in some of them. Having no will in place only complicates matters, leading to all sorts of unnecessary drama that could have been avoided.

You now have children, stepchildren, first wife, second wife, uncle Ed and cousin Fred, all in line trying to sort through family possessions with no clear guidelines as to who gets what if anything at all, igniting family feuds that could sometimes take years to resolve.  

It’s not enough that Ma said she’d leave you her designer handbags. If it’s not stated in a will it’s fair game for Aunt Rachel and all of your cousins. Even though a verbal agreement is legally binding you may still have to prove it in court. Put it in a will and make sure that the will is current. As one person rightly puts it, “A will is your chance to end the argument before it begins.”

Well, you say, I’m an only child, so no drama for me. But it’s more than material possessions and who gets what. As our parents get older it brings to the forefront their quality of health and end-of-life concerns as well, not to mention the financial considerations that go along with them. Do they have a living will or advance directive? Who has power of attorney if they are no longer able to make important decisions for themselves?

So what’s the best way to go about having this conversation without seeming insensitive or rude? Or worst yet, like you’re after money? Here are some ways that experts say work best:

  • First of all, let them know your intentions are honorable, and you don’t have any ulterior motives. You’re inquiring because you’re concerned. If anything should happen to them you’d want to honor and respect their last wishes and do things the way they would have wanted it done. Be sensitive in your approach remembering that you’re dealing with two very unpleasant subjects-death and finances.
  • Make sure the timing is right. You don’t want to bring up the subject right after someone’s funeral, especially if it’s a friend of theirs. Maybe you can casually mention it in passing one day-that you were thinking about drawing up a will of your own, letting this open the doorway for discussion. It doesn’t have to be all at once. A vseries of small conversations over a period of time can work as well.
  • Discuss your intentions with your siblings ahead of time.  Get their input if you can do it without argument or discord. You may not agree on every single detail, but your overall intentions for your parents’ well-being should be the same. Take one of them along with you if this works. Sometimes the person that the parent relates to best can make them more open and receptive to talking about a difficult subject.
  • Gather as much information ahead of time as you can so that you can put them at ease if they have questions. You may also need to assist them with finding the proper documents and paperwork to begin and complete the process.
  • Include in your concerns: whether or not they have a will, if they have power of attorney, advance healthcare directives, an authorized user on their bank account if a family member needs to access funds to cover expenses such as medical care, nursing home, and funeral arrangements.
  • Listen to what they have to say, giving them time to think things over that they’re not sure about. Don’t coerce them into signing documents and paperwork that they’re not comfortable with. Remember that the end result of all of this should bring them peace of mind, not cause further worry or anxiety as to whether or not they’re doing the right thing.
  • When you think that you have everything in place, set up a meeting (or series of meetings) with a lawyer to have a will drawn. Even if your loved-one has a simple estate with no property or no real investments, you can still create a legally binding will yourself using software from NOLO.com .

And if all of this seems a bit overwhelming for you and your loved one, The Five Wishes document is another avenue you can take to securing a will. It is an advance directive created by the non-profit organization Aging with Dignity, and currently meets the legal requirements for an advance directive in 42 states and the District of Columbia. More people have used this document for their living will or advance directive than any other document.

It is popular because of its simplicity and everyday language. It helps you to express your wishes in the areas that matter most. The person you want to make care decisions for you when you can’t; the kind of medical treatment you want or don’t want; how comfortable you want to be; how you want people to treat you, and what you want your loved ones to know.

So it may not be one of the easiest conversations to have, but financial advisers say that the conversation with your parents is one of the best things you can do for them and for yourself. And the earlier you do it the better.

Here are other helpful books on the subject matter that you can find in the DCPL system.

The everything guide to caring for aging parentsKathy Quan

Quick & Legal Will Book– Clifford Dennis

The Conversation: a revolutionary plan for end-of-life care– Angelo Volandes

Caring for our parentsHoward Gleckman

Caring For Your Parents: the complete AARP guideHugh Delehanty

The Power of Attorney Handbook– Edward Haman

 

 

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