Talking with your parents about getting older ranks as one of life’s most difficult conversations. But it must be done. You don’t want to have to guess how your parents want to live and pass on. You want to be sure to have a plan in place, that their wishes will be carried out and that major life changes don’t cause too much stress. Be kind but take a practical approach.
- Plan the conversation. Bringing up important topics on the spur of the moment can put people on edge. Rather schedule time for the conversation, make sure everyone knows what it is about and give everyone a chance to add topics for discussion and think about what they want to say.
- Have the conversation in person, and only include people you are all comfortable with, like your siblings, for example.
- Pick a location that creates minimal stress with minimal distractions – the family dinner or restaurant table might not be the best place.
- Stress the importance of being honest and the importance of compromise – not all plans will be possible.
- Keep the tone neutral and constructive and avoid aggressive or dismissive responses to other people’s ideas or comments.
- Use examples and experiences. Most of us have stories of how someone lived their final years and passed away, and how we feel about it. Sometimes the experiences of others are what we would like for ourselves, sometimes they are the opposite of what we want.
- Allow for follow-up conversations – that way you have time to think about what was said and come up with new thoughts and ideas. You might also need to revisit the same topics a few years down the line, when things change.
- If you struggle to find agreement and solutions, consider including an independent party like a friend or pastor who can give an objective view.
Seven things to talk about and plan for
1. Living arrangements
Moving home is a huge upheaval in our lives so this topic needs to be discussed in detail. Find out where your parents would like to live, and for how long they envisage this as being suitable. Consider costs and practicalities, such as staff. Could they move in with a family member and how might this work? What state and private facilities are available and how much do they cost? Do they have pets and who would care for these if they become ill, pass on or move into a home that doesn’t allow pets?
Driving requires good motor skills and dexterity that can decrease with age. Until the age of the driverless car arrives, it is dangerous to drive when we don’t have these skills. Discuss how long will your parents will drive before it becomes unsafe and what alternative transport arrangements can be made.
Medical bills rise substantially in our later years. Do your parents have a medical aid, what does it cover and how much does it cost? What care is available from public health facilities and social services? This is also the time to talk about having a living will, which outlines how they would like to be treated if they cannot speak for themselves - for instance, if they have a stroke, or are on life support. You want to make sure their wishes are followed.
Investigate how your parents’ finances would be affected if one of them passes on.
Discuss your parents’ financial retirement plans including all pensions and savings. Many of us assist our parents financially, so find out from all your family members what assistance they can offer if your parents’ funds are limited. Investigate how your parents’ finances would be affected if one of them were to pass on.
5. Major life changes
These can pile up in later years – parents may get ill and take a long time to recover, or never fully recover. A spouse may pass on. Ask your parents how they would feel if these life changes happened and how you can plan for these times so the stress levels and tempers don’t get too high.
Questions to ask include what would your parents like to happen when a spouse passes on, would they want to move house? What would they like to prepare for if a serious or terminal illness is diagnosed, or they suffer a debilitating illness like Alzheimer’s that affects their memory or a stroke that affects movement?
6. Keeping busy and moving
What hobbies do your parents have or would like to take up and where can they socialise and join interest groups? What exercise would they like to do and where can they do it?
7. Documents and policies
Make sure that your parents have an up-to-date will. Know where the will, insurance policies and pension plans are kept and how these can be accessed if they are held for safekeeping. Share this article, and our estate planning checklist, with your parents to help them ensure they have all the policies and products in place.
Offer practical assistance Helping our parents isn’t just about financial support, there are many other ways we can assist including setting up and accompanying them to appointments or helping them find a special interest group to join. You may even want to suggest they start their own group or become mentors to students or young professionals.
When you’ve had these conversations and set up some plans, revisit them every few years to keep in touch with what your parents want, and where you can help. Plus, the affordable driverless car may become a reality sooner than we think – and our plans may need to change!