having the talk with aging parents about estate plans

We all cringe when our parents tried to give us “The Talk”. It’s an awkward situation for any pre-teen, and the conversations didn’t get any easier to bear as we entered into the teenage years.

Now, in our own adulthood with aging parents, we need to turn the tables on them. It’s our turn to initiate a conversation that will make all parties squirm.

Most of us who are in our late 40’s and 50’s were raised to not ask questions of our parents. Asking how much someone earned was considered rude. Talking about financial struggles was akin to talking about disease, whispered under our breaths with hands clasped in prayer and looking to the skies. Heaven forbid it should happen to us. Money was a taboo subject and never discussed. My father was the first one to always say “When I’m gone, you’ll figure it out.” It’s costly, time consuming and unfair to expect your loved ones to sort everything out in case of illness or unexpected death.

Hard conversations are never comfortable

Having “The Talk” with your parents does not come naturally, but it’s critical. Avoiding the conversations about retirement plans, financial standing and plans for what should happen in the case of illness means more stress for everyone down the road.

Adults who are part of the “sandwich generation” – people like myself who are raising young children and taking care of their aging parents – must take the time to build a plan for the future. Open dialogue needs to happen with our parents before they are unable to communicate their wishes. If a parent falls ill with dementia, the stress can be insurmountable if no plan was put in place for how to manage the changes that will need to happen.

Planning means you’re prepared

Let’s talk about will and powers of attorney. Are yours up to date? Do you even have a will or a power of attorney?

Knowing what the plans are and being prepared to manage an estate will make life transitions easier. A power of attorney is the document you need to have in place in order to take care of your parents’ wishes should they be unable to do so. It’s also good to plan ahead for your own needs later in life.

You will have to meet with a lawyer who will determine if the person granting the power of attorney is mentally capable of doing so. It’s a harsh reality, but it’s prudent to visit a lawyer at the first signs of a parent exhibiting memory or cognitive issues.

You will want a power of attorney for personal care and for property, each of which is laid out in its own document.

talking with aging parents about wills and estate

When the will is the way

A will is more than just an inheritance document. It’s the outline for what should happen when someone dies. Wills can cover everything from how money and property should be distributed,  to who should take care of minor children in the event of a fatal accident. A living will is a valuable document that shares the plan for what you – or your parents – would like should they become incapable of making critical decisions regarding medical care and interventions.

Here’s a stunning number: more than 60% of us do not have a will (Source: The Law Firm of Fish & Associates) and are under the assumption that if something should happen, our estate will default to our spouse and children.

If someone dies without a will – what the law indicates as “intestate” – the government will appoint a guarantor, which will delay the dissemination of funds and the liquidation of property. The division of assets differs from province-to-province and will vary depending on your marital and family status.

In Ontario, for example, here are some of the challenges you may face if you do not have a will:

  • The law will determine who gets what assets.
  • There will be no guardian appointed for your minor children.
  • Disabled beneficiaries may lose their benefits.
  • There is no protection for your grown children’s inheritance should they divorce while the will is intestate.

talking with aging parents about estate plans

Retirement isn’t just life on a beach

Everyone has imagined what their ideal retirement looks like. Days divvied up between the golf course and the beach. Sleeping in late or getting up very early to take advantage of the day. Volunteering for the causes that need help. Your time is your time only.

When it comes to your own aging parents, you need to make the time to discover what their dream retirement looks like and develop an alternate plan with the hope that you never need it.

Taking care of you while taking care of them

When a parent falls ill, it is devastating to everyone around them, emotionally and financially. When that illness is dementia related, a new level of complications arise; non-emergency calls in the middle of the night, life-sustaining medications that are missed or forgotten, and a resolute stubbornness to get help or admit to the illness.

Having a plan in place before such things happen will mean a smoother ride for the caretakers, whether that is a hired personal support worker, a provincially provided one, or for family members. Knowing what to expect as the illness progresses will prepare you to deal with the changes you will see in your loved one.

Most importantly, giving yourself the space to accept what is happening and being forgiving for the things you cannot control will help you deal with a progressing illness. Find time to step away from the chaos, ask for help from those around you and give in to the helplessness and frustration you will feel. Even with the best plans in place, a long-term or debilitating illness is tough to handle for all the parties involved.

In order to be prepared for life changes, you need to initiate a candid conversation about death, illness and finances. It won’t be easy, but discovering what your parents want for their future, can make transitions smoother. Letting your own children know your wishes for yours as well will reduce stress and leave everyone feeling at ease knowing they are doing the right thing.

Reach out if you need a little extra support when talking with your aging parents about estate plans! I have the resources available to make this as stress-free as possible.