Tough conversations often begin at home, and one of the most common is “the talk” with aging parents. Helping your parents plan for the future — or offering to help them — might be awkward, but necessary. The Leaven spoke with Maureen Kelly, director of spiritual health at Villa St. Francis Catholic Care Center in Olathe, for advice in making it a loving conversation.
Q. At what stage of life should adult children and parents discuss a parent’s financial, mental and health expectations and future?
A. The earlier, the better. Ideally, a family begins to talk about these issues as they experience the deaths of family or friends. Family discussions about health, life and death, finances and other end-of-life issues shouldn’t only occur with elderly, aging parents. Young and adult children can pass away. In that situation, decision-making and follow-up falls to their parents. Most families are uncomfortable having ongoing conversations about end-of-life issues. Sometimes, these conversations occur naturally upon the death of a friend, retirement or if a parent is diagnosed with a terminal illness and is still able to talk about their expectations and future.
Q. How should an adult child prepare for that discussion?
A. Reflect ahead of time on the following points: What do I want to know? Why do I want to know it? Do I need to talk to a financial professional? What do I know about my parents’ physical health? Are there other members of the family to include? How do I think my parents will respond to a conversation about these issues? What is the best way to approach the topics with them? Role play your conversation with a friend.
Q. Should the discussion be with all the children or just one? How is that decided?
A. Talk with your siblings about having this conversation and decide together whether it is the right time and if one or some or all need to be involved in the conversation. Have your parents already decided who they want to be their advocate? If so, that may be the best person for the conversation.
Q. Should you have the conversation with a professional present?
A. Not necessarily. If it is the first time you or your parents have discussed these topics, an informal or spontaneous family conversation may be the best choice. You may want to suggest meeting with a financial professional next or invite your parents to attend a presentation by an elder care attorney.
Q. Should parents take responsibility to start that conversation and share financial plans with children?
A. That is ideal. In my own experience, parents have told me that their adult children “just don’t want to talk about it.” It takes openness on both sides.
Q. Are there other “liabilities” impacting a parent’s savings — such as driving and physical and mental health — that should be part of the discussion?
A. Yes. When you discuss finances and savings, help parents look ahead to other things, such as another car, long-term care and other health expenses.
Q. Should living arrangements (current and future) be part of the conversation?
A. Yes. Do they want to stay in their home? Will it be safe depending on their physical health and challenges? Will they want to downsize? Are there places they are considering moving into later? If they have to go to a nursing home or care center, would they have places in mind? What financial plans will need to be put in place to achieve this goal?
Q. How about trips they’d still like to take or goals they’d still like to accomplish, but might need help with?
A. Understand how their hobbies or travel plans align with their savings and other goals. Much depends on age, health and finances. As an adult child, avoid a “now I am in charge” approach. The more you go with the flow, the less resistance you will have in the end.
Q. Should you consider an annual review of their expenses?
A. Yes. Adjustments may be necessary. If they have a financial planner, offer to attend the annual review. Adult children can also assist with taxes and bank statements to assess where their parents stand. If a parent shows signs of dementia, review their bank statements more often.
Q. What powers of attorney and other information are essential to designate or share?
A. It is essential that people designate a Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA) for health and finances. It can be the same person for both or a different person for each. These designations go into effect when a person is no longer capable of making her or his own decisions and end at their death.
Q. What tips can adult children share with parents to avoid scams?
A. Tell them never give out their Social Security number, no matter how legitimate it sounds. Tell them never to send or give money to people they do not know or to someone they met recently, especially if they are a widow or widower.
Q. Should children encourage repairing family estrangements?
A. Children can encourage parents and siblings to repair estrangements, but it is not their role to interfere. Encourage each party, but do not get into a triangle or be a messenger from one to the other.
Q. What should you say and not say?
A. Emphasize that planning ahead is a gift to themselves and others. Offer to help. Don’t criticize what they have or have not done.
Q. What if you’re met with resistance?
A. If your family has had conversations about money, death and aging, you will not likely have a lot of resistance. You may have resistance if you are presenting your observation of a parent losing their memory, if finances have always been private or if your parents have not thought about or do not want to think about their own end of life. If the conversation is not going well, offer to provide them with additional information for review on their own. If you know friends who have made plans, encourage your parents to call them. Share your own plans for end of life, which may help them see how helpful that will be to your own family.
Maureen A. Kelly, MA, is director of spiritual health at Villa St. Francis Catholic Care Center in Olathe and a member of St. Thomas More Parish in Kansas City, Missouri. She has served as a hospice chaplain for Catholic Community Hospice and Ascend Hospice; has worked in the field of catechetics at both the national and local level; and has contributed articles to Catholic magazines and several Catholic religion textbooks. She earned her master’s degree in theology from the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium.