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Q&A: "How Should I Discuss End-of-Life Care Planning with my Parents?"

Aging Long Term Care

Question and background: 

How should I discuss end-of-life care planning with my parents? As my parents start to age, I've been wondering about how to bring up the topic of end-of-life care and advance planning. It's a touchy subject and I'm not exactly sure how to start the conversation without giving off the wrong impression.

Answer: 

You're wise to be thinking about that now. For too many folks, it never even occurs to them until they're in the throes of it. You know your parents best. But here are some ideas on how to approach this delicate subject:

  • Talk with your parent's financial advisor and see if s/he is willing to initiate the subject. That puts an impartial third party on the hot seat and removes some of the awkwardness for you.
  • If your parent's advisor is unwilling--or they don't have one--talk with your financial advisor. Same as #1.
  • Do you have siblings? What about expressing your concern to them and then subsequently arranging a "family pow wow" to talk through your parent's wishes and the documents they'll need to carry out those wishes?
  • Or a diplomatic, but straightforward conversation initiated by you, something along the lines of: "Mom and Dad, I've been reading a lot lately about various financial and estate matters that people need to make sure are taken care of. And sometimes family members get saddled with tough decisions at an emotional time. We've never talked about what your wishes are in the event of __(end of life issue)__. I need to know what you want in the event I'm ever put in the place of needing to carry out decisions for you."
  • A variation on #4 along these lines, if it applies in your case: "Mom and Dad, I recently updated my own estate plans. Part of that was putting an Advance Directive in place to express my wishes about how I want to be cared for when I can't make those decisions for myself. It suddenly occurred to me that we've never talked about what your wishes are in matters like these."

Beyond those general ideas for starting the conversation, here are a few other sites that may be of help: National Institute on Aging's Planning for End-of-Life Care Decisions EverPlans (end of life planning, guides and articles) Hopefully that'll help get you started.

Best wishes as you help your parents with this.