This is the third post in our series about estate planning and advance care. The first post is about how to get the conversation started with your parents in relation to their estate planning and advance care needs. The second post discusses the specific estate planning documents and plans your parents might need. The third post explores how to approach your parents’ specific situation, including their health histories, whether they want to move into a nursing home, and their funeral wishes.
End-of-life planning isn’t an easy topic of conversation, but it is an important one.
According to 2016 research by Independent Age, a website focused on supporting older generations, almost four out of five people think that having discussions about aging and death is important, but less than a third have actually had such conversations.
The cost of avoiding this conversation can be monumental – older individuals may experience greater anxiety about the unknown; adult children may feel overwhelmed by the responsibility of making decisions on their parents’ behalf, especially when they do not know what their parents’ wishes are; and adult children are likely to make decisions that are different from those their parents would have made. There are also the potential financial ramifications if no planning is done.
Having “the talk” about end-of-life planning is unquestionably important, but how do you approach such a difficult topic? Here are some tips to help you start the conversation:
- Have the conversation while your parents are healthy – Do not wait until your parents are no longer mentally or physically capable of telling you what they want. For many of the decisions you may be called on to make, if you wait, it will be too late. Have the conversation now before you need the answers.
- Be patient – This is likely to be an ongoing conversation with your parents and not a one-time thing. Think about when the right time to bring up the conversation might be, and consider doing it a little at a time.
- Be transparent with other family members – Try to include your siblings in the conversation, so that it does not seem as though you are trying to be controlling or secretive. It will also help avoid family disputes and ensure everyone is on the same page.
- Listen – Your job is not to tell your parents what they should think, feel, or do, but to understand their wishes. Allow your parents to express their feelings without judgment.
- Empathise – Keep in mind that this can be a difficult conversation not only for you, but also for your parents. Very few of us like to talk about death and dying. Think about how you would feel if you were the subject of the conversation, and exercise compassion and empathy.
- Do not pressure – This is not the time to argue over who gets what or attempt to right past wrongs. Remember, the purpose of the conversation is to ease the financial and emotional strain of end-of-life decisions.
- Focus on values – It can be difficult, if not impossible, to cover all possible end-of-life scenarios. Instead, try to focus on your parents’ core values and get a general feel for what they want that can guide future decisions.
- Keep notes – As this will be an ongoing conversation, your parents may change their minds about their wishes. Make sure you keep a record of any wishes so that you have those notes to refer to.
- Consult a solicitor – In addition to helping you with any legal documents, a solicitor who specialises in estate planning can help mediate the conversation and suggest topics for discussion that you may not have thought of otherwise.
Stay tuned for the rest of our estate planning and advanced care series!
If you have any enquiries about estate planning and advance care, contact Greg Martin of our office on 02 9687 9322.