Having The Talk ….. With Your Parents

No!, not THAT talk. Oh my gosh, NO! BabyGirl is only nine-and-a-half and THAT talk is at least a few years away. (Please say yes!). I’m talking about the talk we should have with our parents (or in my case, grandmother) as they get older. The one where we talk openly about “their affairs”. No, not THOSE affairs that are daily news on TMZ. Geez! I’ll just say it ….

Talking to our parents (or possibly grandparents) about their legal, financial and medical affairs. When my mother had her stroke that led to her being in a coma for nearly two months before she died, not having an advance directive or living will wasn’t all that unusual. There was no HIPPA, so medical professionals freely spoke with friends and family about how she was doing (or, to be honest, not doing). And having a health care power of attorney wasn’t all that necessary because doctors and nurses looked to the family, in general, despite that my mother was married and my step-father should have been the decision maker.

But when you’re fine one minute and have a stroke that will ultimately render you comatose, without your written wishes it’s a free-for-all of other people deciding what’s best for you. And although my mother and I had many, many discussions about how she would want to live (or not live) my point of view was dismissed because it was not what the rest of the family wanted. I knew my mom didn’t want to be kept alive, but that didn’t mean anything.

I’m thankful that my grandfather was very detailed and wrote out very specific instructions for his medical, financial and legal affairs when he got too sick to make decisions and then when he died. It made taking care of things for my grandmother much easier. But as my friends speak of having to care for their parents (or grandparents), I hear very different stories. Stories that are heartbreaking because they have no idea about their parent’s medical, legal or financial affairs and are trying to get up to speed during a time of high stress.

I think we all know it’s important to know that our parents (or grandparents) have a will, a power of attorney and maybe even a living will. And, of course, we should have all this stuff too. But I’m finding out that many of my friends have no clue if their parents have a will or any type of legal documents to help them out “just incase”.

Having “The Talk” with our parents (or grandparents) isn’t easy. I know this first hand. We’re the kids, we’re not supposed to talk to our parents about their finances or who they want their stuff left to when the inevitable happens, or if they’ve chosen someone to be their power of attorney. Part of it that we don’t want to have the talk because we don’t want to be morbid. But it’s also that we’re taught to be respectful of their privacy.

But here’s the truth. When something happens, that’s not the time to find out your parents don’t have a Power of Attorney and there’s no one who can take care of their finances. It’s not the time when your mom or dad is on life support to realize you have no clue if they want to have all medical heroics or if they’d rather just be allowed to go or that a sibling who can’t be there is the designated decision-maker. And after a funeral is not the time to find out the last will done was in 1974 and there have been divorces/kids/deaths/births/etc.

Many people are hesitant to fill out all these “legal forms” because they’re told it’s an expensive proposition. However, I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be. When it comes to health care directives, many hospitals and senior advocacy groups offer forms for free. Often the biggest challenge is finding a notary and, if required by your state, the witnesses.

What should you talk about when you have The Talk with your parents?

1. Do they have a will (Last Will and Testament)? When was it last updated?

2. Do they have a Durable General Power of Attorney? This is the document that will give someone the ability to handle their financial affairs should it be necessary. There are a number of options for this so you may need to talk with a legal professional. For example, a power of attorney can be affected by a person’s incapacity so you’ll want to know about this.

3. Do they have an Advance Directive for Health Care (often called a Living Will) that sets out their wishes for medical care?

4. Do they have a Health Care Power of Attorney? And does it include a HIPPA release? This document is NOT the same as a Durable General Power of Attorney. The Health Care Power of Attorney is ONLY for health care matters when the maker is unable to make those decisions.

Years ago it was easy to get health care information and take care of our elderly family members in times of crisis. Now though, with strict privacy laws in both health care and financial matters these documents are necessary. And while not having a will isn’t the end of the earth if there is a surviving spouse, it sure makes matters so much easier.

Many people think it’s morbid, but it’s actually a very responsible conversation. As I tell my clients, these documents ensure that YOUR wishes are carried out and your family isn’t left trying to figure out what you wanted. Sure, there may be hurt feelings or fighting among siblings but the ultimate purpose is to make sure that those who have to act on your behalf can do so with some knowledge. And unless there is a sizable estate, there is affordable legal help to create a basic will.

Have you had the talk? How do you think your parents (or grandparents) would react if you broached this subject with them?

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