Senior Lifestyles: Getting parents to discuss difficult topics

Published 8:00 am Tuesday, September 11, 2018

An acquaintance of mine asked me how to get her parents to discuss creating advance directives before they are needed.

It’s not always easy, because illness and death aren’t exactly dinner topics. While I’m not an attorney, here’s what I suggest when talking with parents or loved ones.

One of the strongest points you can make for having advance directives in place is that doing so does not take control away and allows the maker of these documents to decide who speaks on his/her behalf if they cannot do so.

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When it comes to having “the talk” with your parents, your best approach is to do so calmly and out of genuine concern if something should happen.

If they say it’s not necessary, ask them if they have fire insurance on the home they live in. Then ask them why? Do they really expect the house to burn down?

That’s the same logic to use to get them thinking about “decision insurance” in the form of advance directives — just in case of an unexpected event in their lives.

Let them know that no one can legally just take control of someone else’s life or assets, and that advance directives rarely come into play unless someone is unable to speak for himself, and they may be easily changed.

Here are the most common legal documents that I suggest be put in place:


A will states what you want done with your personal property after your death.

Dying intestate — without a will — means that you will not be able to control which heirs receive what you own. It also means that heirs may be at the mercy of a probate court to determine who gets what and that may take a very long time.

Without a will, assets that are not held in joint tenancy with a spouse or other named person on documents, like deeds, will often be subject to the court’s decision, not yours.

Ask your parent: What do you want to see happen to your property, investments, checking account, jewelry, etc.? Do you want to decide or have the courts decide for you? A will takes care of that.

Power of Attorney

A power of attorney is an authorization written by the principal or grantor naming someone to be his or her agent to handle private affairs, business or other legal matters if you (the principal) cannot do so. There are several types, including financial and healthcare.

Be very careful who you name, as you are bestowing enormous control over virtually all of your assets. Trust and honesty are perhaps the most important traits you want in your POA

Ask your parent: Who would you prefer to have making financial decisions for you if you are unable to do so? Do you want that same person to also make life sustaining decisions for you if necessary?

Living Will

A living will outlines in writing your treatment wishes should you become terminally ill or fall into a persistent vegetative state. It stipulates which treatment services you do and don’t want, such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation, a respirator or the use of feeding tubes.

Without a living will, state law may require that you be kept alive and sustained by any means possible. It’s a good idea to provide copies to your primary physician, your local hospital and your POA.

Ask your parents: Mom/Dad, if you’re terminally ill or in a vegetative coma, what do you want done about prolonging your life, and who do you want to speak for you if you cannot speak for yourself?

Healthcare POA

This person may also be your financial POA if you grant them the authority, or you may name a spouse, adult child or trusted friend. Just be sure the person you name is in full agreement with your stated living will wishes regarding keeping you alive, even if by artificial means, versus stopping treatment and allowing nature to take its course.

Ask your parents: Mom/Dad, who do you want to name to be sure that the wishes in your living will are followed? From experience, this is one area where naming someone other than a spouse often makes the most sense because of the emotional impact of fulfilling the wishes of a spouse to withhold certain treatments as stated in the living will.

I recommend seeking legal counsel to create these documents. It doesn’t have to be expensive, and it’s a lot less costly than having to hire an attorney to “fix” a mistake if one or more of these documents was incorrectly done or nonexistent when something in their lives goes terribly wrong.

Ron Kauffman is a consultant and expert speaker on issues of aging. He is the author of “Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s Disease.” He may be contacted at 828-696-9799 or at