At a recent retirement workshop hosted by Michigan State University Extension, a co-worker discussed the importance of having a will, a power of attorney for health care and a power of attorney for financial matters or other similar legal options. Although I am not yet at retirement age, it gave me some things to think about. I do not currently have any of these instruments in place if a catastrophic were to render me either incapacitated or dead. It just seems as though these are things my parents should be thinking about, not me.
The only problem is, we cannot plan catastrophic events! I could be in a car accident on the way home from work tonight that could take my life or make me unable to express my wishes. I had to change my way of thinking from ‘that this is something only senior citizens should worry about’ to ‘if something were to happen unexpectedly, my wishes would be known to my family and the court.’
But going back to my parents: How do I know what they have planned or if they haven’t planned for their demise or inability to manage their own affairs? The easy answer is: Ask them. However, it’s not always so easy. Families have a hard time discussing topics around the end of life.
So how do we start the conversation? According to Marsha Goetting, Extension Family Economics Specialist from Montana State University and Vicki Schmall from Oregon State University, Corvallis, one way is to share your own wishes in case of your own serious illness or death. The issue could also be raised when a friend or other family members are confronted with issues of incapacity or death.
They also suggest using I-messages to address the topic. “I’m worried that if something happens to either one of you, we won’t know what to do.” Resist the urge to force your opinions on them. The important thing is to listen carefully as they express their wishes. Many times, you may think your ideas make more sense. If you want to have a productive discussion about the topic, it is important to show respect for your parent’s ideas. For a list of questions to ask your parents, check out the bulletin Talking with Aging Parents about Finances.
If they are not comfortable talking to you or other family members about their personal finances, suggest that they talk to an attorney.
The bottom line is, whether you or your family decides to discuss end-of-life decisions and financial planning for the end-of-life or when incapacitated, we all will die someday. Make the choice now to express your wishes and learn about your spouse’s and parents’ wishes to help protect assets and achieve peace of mind.
This article was published by Michigan State University Extension.