Intro– You have heard of the sex talk that parents should have with their pre-teens? Well, most parents do not have that talk. The same is true for the Parent Talk. Most kids do not have the talk about aging with their parents. What is the Parent Talk? It’s about getting things in order. Facing mortality. How will you age? Many parents do not like the talk just as pre-teens are not excited about talking about sex, seniors are not excited to talk about death.
As a mediator, I worked with families who were in conflict over the aging process with parents. Siblings fighting, broken relationships with one or both parents. You name it, I have seen it. I wrote the book along with my co-authors, Mark Duhrkoop and Kim Christensen, The Decision Tree of Aging, to help families age with grace and peace. The four roots and branches from The Decision Tree of Aging become the 8 points of the Parent Talk:
Root 1– Wills and Estates. Millions die every year without a will or trust. The legal mess and time necessary to entangle it becomes a huge burden to the one who needs to sort it out, often a child. Does your parent have a wlll or trust?
Root 2– Income and Assets. Over 74 million baby boomers are trying to retire with an average of $25,000 in the bank. That will not work! You need to talk to your parents about their income and assets, not easy topics for a child to have with a parent, yet very necessary. If you as a child had to step in, how would you know which bills to pay, where assets are located, how to keep things floating?
Root 3– End of Life Plans. These are important legal documents that allow someone, often a child, to have the legal right to make financial and medical decisions. Without them, a child is forced to sue their parents for the right of guardianship and conservatorship. Very expense compared to the few hundred dollars to put a Power of Attorney in place and Health Care Directives. Do your parents have these documents? Who is named and where are the documents located?
Root 4– Support Plans. Your parents need a professional team and support team. You need to make sure their attorney, physician, CPA or other professionals are still practicing and not retired. You will need these people through the aging process. Also, your parents need friends, neighbors, those who can support them relationally as well as with small favors from time to time. If there are no children living close to parents, you need to have the contact information of people close to them.
Branch 1– How Will You Transition? This is the really difficult part of the Parent Talk. This is when a parent moves from independence to more dependence. Nobody likes it, and often resists the reality of the aging process. Eyes dim. Reflexes slow. Memory fails. When does a parent stop driving? When do physical limitations overwhelm a spouse or a family caregiver? In the book, we talk about Adult Daily Living (ADLs) guide the eldercare community has used for years to assess the needs of a person. Review these as well as the IADLs as part of the Parent Talk. Just a heads up, this will not be easy!
Branch 2– When Will You Receive Care? The transitions discussion feeds into this question. If you identify the thresholds when there is movement to greater care, you identify the timing. Most parents place far too much pressure on the caregiver, often the spouse, before the caregiver is now in greater need of care or passes. Often, the spouse or family caregiver, does not want to give up caring as well. This is complicated and helpful to discuss BEFORE the need of care.
Branch 3– Who Should Give the Care? Will it be a family member? There are millions of family member caring for their loved ones. Often, they have little support and unclear guidelines regarding finances. If not a family member, will we hire an agency or an individual, move to a care community? Who does the parent want to care for them?
Branch 4– Where Will You Receive Care? Most parents will want to age in place. Many resources today to help accomplish that goal from home services to those who specialize in universal design for the house. When you talk about transitions and when care may become so overwhelming that more help is needed that can come to a home, then some form of care community will be necessary. This is another hard topic that most parents do not wish to think about. You can assist your parents to age in place as long as possible until physical conditions make it very difficult, then a care community they select is considered. Where will your parents receive care?