Talking to your parent about their wishes, before they become much older, will most likely be the most difficult conversation you ever have to hold with them but planning for their future and being able to respect their preferences is extremely important.
Understanding their wishes will help resolve any conflict within the family and take the decision‐making burden away from you. Before you start these talks, bear in mind the following to make the conversations easier and more productive.
Remember that they will need to be “ready” to talk with you about the decisions they are about to make for their future. It will be very hard for them to admit they need help as your relationship moves towards “Child becomes Parent”.
You may feel that you can manage all the information about your parent and keep it to yourself, but if you have siblings, they may feel you are being controlling and secretive. Engage with them after every conversation you have with your parent if they can’t attend, keep them updated all the way with what is being discussed, so there is transparency and no surprises later.
Keep a written record
Difficult conversations will not just happen once, this will be an on-going process. Taking notes and recording your parent’s thoughts and wishes will make it easier to follow up in future conversations. And what they tell you, will help you understand what needs to be done and what steps to take.
Listen without judgement
Your parent may feel anger and anxiety over conversations about preparing them for older age and the changes required in their life. They may wish they had taken action earlier, or try to apportion blame, getting older can be hard and can give cause for feelings not experienced before. Let your parent vent their frustrations and then help them work towards resolutions.
Although it may hard, put yourself in their shoes, how would you feel? The future is scary with a lot of uncertainties. It is fair to say no one wants to focus on death, but it is hard to discuss the future with an elderly parent without knowing that is part of it. Shy away from using the word ‘death’ and ‘dying’, try using ‘when you’re gone’ or “no longer with us”. Remember it’s not about you! Consider and respect how they must be feeling.
Don’t pressure them
A gentle non-confrontational approach will give better results. You may not agree with some or all of their plans, but it’s their plan and their plan is better than no plan at all. Don’t force your thoughts and wishes on them.
Your notes alone will not be recognised or enforceable by law, so when the time is right, engage a lawyer to be part of the discussions and offer advice in making sure all the documents are correct and enforceable, such as Advance Directive, Power of Attorney and Wills.
We’ve compiled a useful list of things you should consider when having the conversations, and tips on how to get your parent to open up and get the conversations going? Here we look at different approaches:
- Use a story. To start the conversation, you can tell a story about someone who did or didn’t have information about their elderly parent and the difficulties it caused the family. Use “a friend of a friend story”, where their father recently passed away and it was a nightmare for his children to clean up his affairs because they didn’t know about their father’s finances, legal documents or funeral arrangements. This could lead into:
- Talking about your own situation and future wishes. Talk about what you have done to get your finances and legal documents in order, thoughts you have had about your funeral wishes. Mention you have drafted a will and created a list of your accounts and passwords in case something happens to you, it doesn’t have to be as a result of ageing, it is about being prepared.
- Take an indirect approach. Parents can be unwilling to talk about their personal affairs and finances, so offer them a way to record it without having to share it with you. Create a What If Book.. and gift it to them, in this book they can record all they need to and then store it in a safe place. They can also record some of their best memories, so it doesn’t seem like a chore and all official.
- Offer to lighten their load. Ask your parent if there is anything you can help them with so they can have more time to enjoy the things they like doing. Start with a task unrelated to something they are not ready to address, then gradually start offering assistance with more important things, like their finances and legal aspects.
- Get professional help. You may find that your parent just isn’t ready to have these talks with you – suggest they speak with a lawyer or a financial adviser instead.
Difficult conversations are not just about finances and legal issues. Downsizing or resizing, retiring from driving, or care needs all fall under difficult conversations you may need to have with your elderly parent.