Last week I checked in with a friend from whom I’d heard neither hide nor hair in months. “I was worried,” I told him. My friend went on to explain to me that he and his wife were feeling incredibly overwhelmed and had not had time to connect socially, as their days and nights suddenly revolved around the care of his ailing parents and their ongoing affairs. As if that weren’t enough, this friend and his wife are parents to their own three children, who range in age from first grade through high school, and both parties work full time. “We’ve been feeling very ‘sandwiched,’” he said (though I’m still not sure whether or not that was a joke).
“What about siblings? What financial arrangements did your parents have laid out for this time in their lives?” I asked
“None, it turns out. We’re all just figuring it out as we go along …” was the pained answer my friend offered. His only other sibling lives across the country with her own family. Their parents, who are in their 70s, had never planned for the inevitable day in which they would require some assistance. There were no financial arrangements in place, no living will for either parent, no retirement savings, no nothing. My friend was trying to stay afloat amidst his simmering anger and shock, having basically doubled his family in size as well as in responsibilities, practically overnight.
“I mean, everyone gets old, right? Can you believe this?” he wanted to know.
I sure can.
Seems that for whatever reason—in my opinion a mix of both pride and fear—many of us in the baby boomer generation have aging parents who will either never make plans regarding their own twilight years, or if they do, will fail to discuss them with their adult children, who therefore will be working blind when that day comes. No one likes to think about death or the terrible possibility of a prolonged hospital stay and/or illness, and so perhaps it seems easier to put those thoughts away until tomorrow (and then the tomorrow after that …). And for those folks who never managed to save enough money for those later years? Ignoring the problem will not make it go away. While it is painful to have to ask one’s child to help out, it is a great deal kinder to warn those adult children of what is ahead for them, so that they can get a plan in place. Your children love you and will forgive your fallacies. We are all imperfect beings.
There is never a guarantee that tomorrow is coming for anyone. So, adult children with aging parents, if you have yet to hear about such end-of-life planning from your own parents, you need to make a phone call.
This evening after you’ve put your own kids to bed, please call your parent(s) and have The Talk. Here are a few key topics you should discuss:
- Do your parents have an updated will? Tell Mom and Dad that you don’t care to know what’s in it, nor who gets what. You’re only concerned about where you can find it. If the answer is no, there is no will, then find a reputable attorney who specializes in estate planning and bring your parents to this person.
- Do your parents have a power of attorney for their health care? In other words, can someone other than your mother legally make decisions for Dad in the event that he’s incapacitated? This is so important as both parents age. While you’re on the topic, ask your parents how they feel about end-of-life issues, as painful as this may be. (Would Mom like to be kept on a ventilator past a certain number of days, etc.)
- What are your parents’ long-term wishes on moving from their current home? Where would each parent live in the event of losing the other?
- Finally, and this one is perhaps the toughest for most families, ask your parents about their finances. How is their debt load? Is their home paid off? Where do they keep their important paperwork? Do they have a banker or financial representative with whom you can connect when the time comes? This is not about judgement but about planning—ideally taking stress off of everyone by getting ahead of a crisis.
If you get a reaction along the lines of, “Can we talk about this tomorrow?” along with a “promise,” go ahead and schedule a time for the discussion and then follow through with the conversation. It’s on you at this point to get the information your entire family depends upon.
I realize that this topic, as are so many of our more important familial conversations, is rife with feelings. Please feel free to reach out to me at any time, via my “Contact me” page.
Wishing you all the best,
Rabbi Scott Saulson, Ph.D.