Talking to Aging Parents About End of Life Issues
Most people truly love their parents, in part because they've done so much for us over many years. They took care of us when we were kids. They often helped us get through our first few years of adulthood, helped us get into our first house, and they even help us with the kids once in a while.
It's a really good idea to thank our parents for everything they do for us, to be sure, but how do we do that? One possible way if to take care of them when they need it in their golden years. But what does that mean, exactly?
Well, that will probably differ from family to family, so the best way to find out the answer by asking them about their goals and wishes, especially with regard to end of life care and health decisions, but also with regard to the charities and causes they support. None of this is easy; most people of earlier generations aren't used to talking about such subjects and they won't always be forthcoming. It may take a while to break the ice.
Once you have an idea about what they want, you'll need to have access to their finances, in order to make sure the goals they have are realistic, and to possibly take steps to make them realistic if they're not. The surest way to get people to talk about money is to begin the conversation by talking about other people. For example, you can ask them how their friends are doing, including their financial or medical situation. You may also try asking them advice about money, and gradually move into subjects like retirement or life insurance or issues like that. Then you can ask them how they handled things, and you'll either be in or not.
In order to make sure your parents are taken care of during their most vulnerable years, they should have three key documents; a living will, a health care proxy and a durable power of attorney, because those documents allow someone they trust to make financial and medical decisions should they be unable to do so.
A living will would allow your parents to stipulate exactly when and how your parents control when and how they get life support and it provides instructions to doctors and hospitals.
A health care proxy would allow your parents to designate who (you, for example) gets the legal authority to make health care decisions on their behalf, which can be very important and reduce the burden of the paperwork and navigation that often has to go on. And a durable power of attorney would give them the power to designate the same decision making authority for all of their financial affairs.
Of course, a lot of other documents will be needed for when they pass away, but this is a good start, to protect them before the time comes. Talk to them soon; once they need any of this stuff, it's too late.