This is a very difficult topic. Some families discuss financial and medical issues with ease. Many don’t. If your parents are the ones that don’t, it is still important to get the ball rolling.
First of all, if there is more than one child, this should be done in a family context. It is not a good idea for one child to approach his or her parents alone. It can be perceived by other siblings as lobbying for favors. It can be seen by parents as one child being greedy. The best way to do this is by all of the siblings being present during discussions such as these.
It might be good to start with the topic of medical directives, since this does not deal with money. Ask your parents if they have medical directives or power of attorneys in place. If they don’t, you might want to encourage them to do so by letting them know that if they were to get sick and unable to speak for themselves, the current regulations would not permit the hospital to speak with the children concerning any medical information. Since it is a good idea for every member of the family to do this, it could be a good family project for all members to take the time to do medical directives and appoint patient advocates. In that way, your parents may not feel as if they are the target of an unpleasant conversation.
Next, gently approach them about the issue of Wills and Trusts. If one of the children has already taken that step, it might be a good idea for him or her to lead off the discussion by pointing out that he/she had already taken care of that. Talk about what a relief it is to know that all your affairs are in order. Additionally, you might want to raise the issue of how much difficulty a friend had when his or her parents did not have any planning in place.
Once you get the ball rolling, try to make sure that your parents address all of the following issues and discuss them with all of you.
- Should they prepare a Will or a Trust? What would best meet their needs?
- Have they checked their beneficiary designations on all of their life insurance and IRA’s or 401K’s? Are they correct?
- Who should they chose as agents under their documents? Are some of you less willing than others to assume that responsibility?
- How should their personal property be distributed? Perhaps it would be appropriate for each of you to list several things that you really would like to have. That would give them a starting point for a distribution list.
- How would they like to spend their golden years? What are their goals? What are their concerns? Do they worry about having the financial assets available to live out the rest of their lives in comfort?
- Do they have long term care insurance? If they don’t, what would a plan be if they were to need skilled nursing care? They may believe that they can take care of one another, yet that may not be a practical plan. Who will care for the survivor when he or she is not able to care for him or herself?
- When do they plan on downsizing their living? Would they consider selling their home and moving into something smaller and easier to care for? Would they object to assisted living when the time comes?
- How would they feel comfortable deciding when they could no longer handle their own financial affairs? Would it be upon the recommendation of a doctor? Or two doctors?
- Where are all of the documents kept? Are they all in one place? This is important not only at the end of life, but in the event of a medical emergency.
If this is approached in an open and friendly manner, the discussion can benefit not only your parents, but all of the children as well. You will learn about your parents’ goals and wishes. They will be comfortable knowing that you understand these goals and desires.