While the old adage is “nothing is certain but death and taxes,” that doesn’t mean we like talking about either. This can be especially true when discussing end-of-life arrangements with older loved ones. However, as unpleasant as this conversation can be, it may be a necessary one, and it can save them and you from even greater difficulties in time. Here are a few ways to make this conversation easier and more productive.
Bringing Up the Topic
Broaching the topic in a sensitive and gentle way will help set the stage for the rest of the conversation. Aging Care has a great tip on how you can get this going: talk about your own end-of-life arrangements. Start a conversation about the difficulties you might face by not preparing, and from there, move into asking them about their own arrangements. You might find that they’ve wanted to discuss the matter, too, but also found it difficult to bring up. At the end of the initial conversation, leave the door open by saying something like “Let’s talk about this another time,” so you can easily pick up where you left off later.
Making the Conversation Easier
One of the biggest barriers to difficult conversations is the feeling that you’re not being understood. As you discuss the end-of-life arrangements with your loved ones, paraphrase what they say, especially as it relates to their feelings and opinions. You can say something like, “So if I understand you correctly, you feel that….” If they perceive that you are listening and that you understand their feelings, it can help them open up. It can also be helpful to write down everything you want to cover in the conversation. You may as well cover all bases while the doors to communication are open, rather than realizing you forgot something and having to pick it up later. Psychology Today has some more great tips on handling tough conversations here.
Financial Accounts and Insurance
If your loved one is terminally ill or has been seriously injured, money problems are the last thing you need. Yet you may find yourself with some big medical bills and funeral expenses to pay for a loved one, while lacking the funds to cover them. To ease this potential cash crunch, your loved one could set you up as an authorized user on their accounts, which would enable you to access his or her funds if necessary. Another option is to sell a life insurance policy as a life-settlement, which can help free up cash for medical bills or other expenses during life, and in many cases, still leave a balance for funeral expenses.
Many end-of-life medical matters are best handled by a document known as advanced healthcare directives. These are instructions on how certain health care decisions should be made, should your loved one not be in a position to make them on their own. There are usually three parts in these medical directives. The living will allows the signing party to specify what life-sustaining procedures should be used-or not used-sparing loved ones from having to decide when to turn off life support, for instance. Another part allows the signer to set up a healthcare proxy, enabling another person to make these and other decisions. The third and very important part of advanced healthcare directive is the HIPAA release, which allows designated parties to access the signer’s medical records, so crucial in having the designee make informed decisions on behalf of the signer. While many hospitals can supply a form on admission, it’s best to handle medical directives before one enters a hospital, so decisions can be made calmly and with sufficient forethought.
According to AARP, about 20% of Americans over the age of 72 don’t have a will, while about 42% of those aged 53-71 haven’t had a will drawn up. If your loved one falls into this category, it’s something they should seriously consider, sooner rather than later. A will allows someone to specify how his or her estate will be divided, and can simplify the probate process. A power of attorney is another legal document that facilitates how assets are handled. In contrast to a will which is effective from and after death, a power of attorney is effective only until death. A power of attorney can allow the designated party to access funds which may be necessary toward the end of life, as well as exercise other authority, as desired.
Most people agree that these are not an easy topics to talk about, and they can trigger a whole range of emotions. However, if you approach the subject with care and sensitivity, you may find the conversation goes more smoothly than you were expecting. You can plan to assist a loved one with her or her own planning today by making a list of points and priorities, and broaching those subjects with care.