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Tough Discussions: Talking to Aging Parents

walk on beachIt is the proverbial “elephant in the room” of financial planning: addressing estate planning and inheritances with our parents.

It is an uncomfortable area in so many respects: considering mortality, duty, emotions, finances – all of which are significant stressors. It is natural therefore to put off having the uncomfortable conversation. In fact, it is so uncomfortable for so many people that one study from the UK estimates that 59% of people are uncomfortable talking about long-term care with their family.

To avoid it all together, however, could be costly for everyone involved. Think about approaching the topic from the perspective of what your parents want, rather than creating any sense that it is about what you want.

The best way to discuss these delicate issues is to begin by concentrating on your parents’ long term care wishes and needs. Think about:

  • Clarify intentions. Having a conversation that begins with an expression of concern for the future. You want your parents to know you have their best interests in mind and only want to help make sure you know what they want.
  • Hurry but don’t rush. The idea is that you should know your parents’ wishes and financial resources long before you face any tough decisions on their behalf. That is the “hurry” part of the equation. The “don’t rush” part refers to the fact that you should approach the subject as a series of discussions to be sure you understand all of their thinking, not just having a one-off conversation.
  • Listen respectfully without jumping to solutions. Ask your parents open-ended questions and listen respectfully to their responses. Whenever possible, pose questions that offer multiple solutions, then weigh each of the alternatives.
  • Make suggestions, not demands. While you may think you know what is best, avoid telling your parents what to do. Let them exercise control over their future to avoid the impression that their independence is at risk. That will prevent misunderstandings or perceptions of unfair influence.
  • Be thorough, but not overly complicated. You want to instill a sense of confidence that you’ve done the research when necessary, but spare details that may distract their attention, or which matter more to the people left behind than it does to them perhaps.
  • Don’t stop without the docs. Know the location of all important paperwork such as insurance policies, wills, trust documents, investment and banking records, tax returns, living wills and powers of attorney.
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