• ‘My mom doesn’t have a cent to her name.  I have no idea how she thinks she’ll support herself.  We’re having a hard enough time making ends meet as it is.  I’m terrified.


    ‘I’m sure my parents are sorted for retirement. They make it sound that way.  But I don’t know the details…It feels out of place to ask.’


    ‘My parents won’t talk to me about their retirement plans, except to complain that they have to wait to retire.  And I mean, they don’t think I know how to make decisions in my own life…so how am I supposed to approach them to help make decisions about the rest of theirs?’


    ‘My mom was barely 60. The “children” never talked to her about her wishes. When she was diagnosed with cancer, we assumed she and my dad had talked about her wishes.  In the end, the conversation happened in the hospital — when she was unconscious and there were life or death decisions to be made.’


    These are voices of my Gen X friends and colleagues talking about aging parents.

    It’s a topic we were trained to avoid.

    As kids we were shielded from dying relatives and left in school for funerals.   We grew up alongside a new aging industry, which took old people out of our communities and into a series of self-contained centers and homes.

    As adults, we’ve watched our country demolish the socio-economic safety net for the aging.

    We somehow have not managed to connect the dots as we’ve watched our parents approach – and then delay – their golden years.

    According to the Volunteers of America, more than half of the 45- to 65-year-olds have not talked to their family – or even their doctors – about aging, or drafted a power of attorney or will.

    According to our own (very) informal survey, hardly any of 25-45 year olds  have talked to their parents about the same issues – or to their peers about their fears and plans.

    We don’t know how to start these conversations.  And even if we do, the topic is so vast and overwhelming that creating an informed plan often takes a cadre of expensive specialists.

    We’re starting the Veneration Project to provide a reference point for that first conversation – whether it’s with a parent, sibling, or peer – and everything that follows.

    We’ll start with some humble advice from our experience, followed by some even better articles and resources!

    1. Start now: The conversation only gets more difficult. Start the conversation as soon as possible – even before warning signs.
    2. Create your own entry point: the starting point for this conversation will be different depending on your family’s relationships, dynamics, and priorities.  Start with an angle you feel most comfortable with.  While financial planning is critical, it’s only one piece of the puzzle.  Even if your parents have taken care of that piece, you need to delve into how those choices relate to their choices about health, housing, and eventual care.
    3. Start with a proxy: If you’re not ready to tackle the conversation with your parents, start by talking to a friend or colleague who you know has dealt with these issues, and create a plan for initiating the conversation in your family.
    4. Be adult:  This conversation is an important milestone in establishing an adult relationship with your parents.  Approach the conversation as two adults having a heart to heart, but with full respect for your respective roles.  Even if emotional baggage is  hurled at you, soldier on.
    5. Present a united front: If you have siblings or other close relatives involved, coordinate your approach and if possible, initiate the conversation together.
    6. Take a cue: Sudden or drawn out illness and death of a family member or friend is an unfortunate but effective entry point for a conversation about wishes and plans.  When dealing with grandma’s finances, it’s a good entry to ask your dad about his.
    7. Use space and time: Initiate the conversation in person in a safe or neutral space and at a time when you can both focus your attention.  Then you can create a plan to continue the conversation on specific topics via phone and email.  A long drive is a great time for a conversation.
    8. Be present and prepared: Come to the conversation armed with a list of key issues to cover…such as:
    • How do they envision their old age? What needs to happen to make that possible?
    • What assets and debt do they have, and where?
    • What insurance policies do they have, and what are the terms? Have they bought – or considered – long-term care insurance?
    • Do they have a will, and where is it?
    • What are their wishes if they should become incapacitated, or die suddenly? Is there a document that reflects their wishes?  If so, where is it kept?
    • How do they want to be remembered? What do they want to be their legacy?

    To start – check out this resource guide to starting conversations:

    40/70 Talk: Starting Conversations About Care For An Elder

    Tell us what’s relevant, or not?

    Here are links to a couple of recent (and not so recent) articles and research on the topic:

    Helping Your Aging Parents‘ by Penelope Wang, May 31, 2011

    Talking to Your Parents about Money‘ by Robert Frick, August, 1999

    End of Life Decision-Making

    Have other links and resources to share? Please send them our way:

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    This entry was posted on Friday, May 6th, 2011 at 11:51 am and is filed under Communication & Planning. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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