Holiday Gifts for Elders 2014
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Having THAT Conversation With Elders

You would be amazed at how many emails I receive with links to instructions for how to have “that” conversation with aging parents. You know, the one(s) about the future: should the parent sell the house, move to a smaller apartment or assisted living, get home care help, give up the car keys, etc.

There are dozens (hundreds?) of places online with advice on how to approach the talk. There is so much of it that one is even named Having the Conversation.

My least favorite suggestion urges siblings to first form a team, have a meeting among themselves to reach an agreement on what the parent(s) should do and then gang up on the elder.

Fortunately, most of the websites I've read are smarter and kinder - to greater or lesser degrees.

One of the better websites about how to approach the conversation if you suspect it will be difficult is

In fact, an entire book about having such (or any other) conversation with one's parents titled How to Say It to Seniors by David Solie (which is pretty good on this topic) is quoted on the introductory page:

” children want to solve the problem and move on. Their parents, however, want foremost to maintain a sense of control and dignity in a season marked by many losses. Your goal in how to have 'the talk': Balance both sides' needs by moving forward slowly and with care.”

Not all advice is good. Some of it barely goes beyond what NOT to say (“How can you not remember that?) Others are more concerned with the child than the aging parent: “Share your own feelings,” they advise, and “Respect your own needs.”

Neither is wrong but it's hard to trust suggestions when these two are at the top of a ten-point list.

Here is a five-minute video from a social services perspective about speaking with elder parents created by Home Instead Senior Care. It is a bit too condescending for my taste but the information isn't wrong:

Here is a link to the website.

There is a good brochure from titled Let's Talk: Starting the Conversation About Health, Legal, Financial and End of Life Issues. It's only eight pages and worth your time.

An essay on How to Have an Honoring and Successful Conversation at the Laureate Group website is good too. Don't be put off by the fact that is it is provided by a commercial senior community corporation – the advice is among the best I found.

Now that you've gotten this far, have you noticed what all these sources of information have in common?

What stands out starkly is that, without exception, they all purport to know the best way to talk to old people without ever having consulted any old people - at least not that I can tell and I'm pretty sure if they'd consulted an elder or two, they would tell us.

So let's us do that today - talk about how we, elders, want the conversation to be handled with us, and let's assume the people involved have all their buttons still, that they are cognitively capable. (Early-stage dementia or declining mental health should be addressed separately.)

Have your children held the conversation with you? How did it go? If you haven't had the conversation, why is that? And if you were writing advice instructions for discussing health, financial and end-of-life issues between elders and adult children, what would you advise?

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Clifford Rothband: Bother Me


I think the conversation should be started by the elders. My own mother, after my father died - while we siblings were all in town for once, sat us siblings (and spouses) down. She told us her financial situation and how she intended to proceed. My mother was no genius, but she certainly had a lot of common sense. She was self-supporting, and living alone, to the end.

I hope that Hunky Husband and I can be as wise and do so well.

P.S. No, we've not had the conversation. I do update our kids/grandkid every couple of years on where to find important papers should HH and I die together and on what accounts, but not the value of them, I have that will automatically pass to them on death.

I have talked to my children
and they are up to date on everything.
Recently wanted to talk again
as I have turned 80 and a lot I do in my nature surroundings with no help.
They tell me I am fine
just keep taking one day at a time, pace myself and need to get some occasional help.
As long as I continue on like I am - guess I will just continue...

CopCar is sooooo right! It's our responsibility to tell our kids what we want.

I was blessed with a stepmother who told her children and myself her preferences, and how any monies left behind would be split (4 of us so split 4 ways). She was closest to her eldest daughter, so she moved to the same town after my father died.

I stayed in close touch with her because she was a better mom to me than my natural mother.

I so appreciated being kept 'in the know', I started doing the same with my son and we talk about it periodically.

The best set of tools I've found (they're marked as "tools") is on the American Bar Assocation website: google that and "end-of-life" and you'll find the helpful forms to the left. I've filled them out for myself and will also pass them on to my mom, who has always been and is still sharper than I am!

from much of what i read concerning the younger generation, and the state of their economy, the conversation might as likely have to do with when they are going to move out and leave the elders to live in peace.

I had the talk years ago. I have made my financial arrangements and end of life documents available to them. I have even walked them through the house asking them what they would like.

I have made a list based on their requests of 'who gets what' and the list is with my will.

I have seen too many families torn apart over arguments and hurt feelings over material things the deceased had and have tried to avoid that happening with my children.

I have talked to them and they are in agreement about my request that no heroic measures are to be taken if I am terminal.

My cousin was very foolish. He was an commercial artist and had many paintings in galleries. His art commanded a good price and he kept his best paintings for himself. He was married to his fourth or fifth wife and had a step-son that he loathed. He didn't want him to inherit the house or his paintings. He told his closest daughter to rush to the house and get his paintings when he died. Of course, without a will, his wife got the paintings.

I will never know why he would not make a will if he wanted his 3 daughters to have his paintings. He had the talk, but did nothing to insure that it was carried out.

My 99 yr. old mom died at 99 last May. Everything was in place & filed. She kept us in the loop on all matters & my kid sister had POA. She told us exactly what she wanted & we did as she told us to do. But then she was an exceptionally well-organized person with tons of common sense. We learned a lot from her even in the final days of her life.
So I have as many ducks lined up as I can.......elder attorney handled everything at reasonable cost. I keep our kids involved & advised & yes, Ronni is correct as usual. Someone should ask us older folks about what's to be done. So I suggest you (Ronni) write a column for a local paper or perhaps the NYTs. Who knows? They may listen. :) Dee

I always keep my daughter updated about our latest thoughts and feelings about that kind of stuff. For example: would I want to stay here if Sky dies before me? What might he do if I die first? What changes might we need to make to our lifestyle if we can't still do what needs doing around the house and garden? How does it feel to be in one's seventies and having to have these sorts of conversations?--all of that, as well as the practicalities of the will and where the papers are kept. In the same way, I often share with her my own experiences of the woman's ageing process. It's not only important that she knows what our plans are but since I am her primary role model for ageing she likes to hear about how it feels from the inside as well as what it looks like from the outside. It will be her turn one day, after all.

I started the conversation with my daughter. She didn't want to hear it. I think i have everything ready "in case" and that is very freeing.

I've made a will and a living will and have given my son POA. Have gotten his signature added to my bank accounts, and have written up some instructions. I've a lot more I want and need to write up because it's obvious he does not want to talk about such things. I hope his "denial" eases as I get older and more dependent, but I fear he's going to have a very difficult time dealing with my decline and demise. I've a younger sister who would be very practical about such things, but she lives 700 miles away. We'll just have to see how it all shakes out as I get older.

My husband and I have had the same experience as Maryellen but we haven't tried to have a "formal" talk. Our children are in denial that we are old. (Thinking of the "cult of adulthood" I've been reading about in "What Are Old People For?") We are 65 & 68, still healthy, but no ladders, etc. We don't have long-term care insurance, we don't have pensions, we've done the best we can re: 401(k)s, and we still have a mortgage due to having to address deferred maintenance of our home which I inherited from my mother.

This house has been the "family home" since the late 40s so some shock is expressed if I ever mention the possibility that we might need to sell the house. I would like to age in place, but my husband isn't so sure. He's concerned about needing to maintain our 1920s house which isn't suitable for being remodeled to meet "universal design" standards. Thus, we have recently become interested in the Village concept which may give us both confidence.

Anyway, the elder law attorney who prepared our wills, powers of attorney, and advanced directives suggested that we annually review and initial our advance directives so that when they're needed, the reader can tell that they reflect our current wishes.

The Engineer and I have wills, medical directives,and such in place but have not yet discussed them with my daughter (who is the only remaining child from my first marriage and from his).

My daughter lives in New York State, and The Engineer and I live in Seattle. I'm planning to visit her before long, and I'll initiate The Talk then. Fortunately, the Engineer and I are doing quite well in the meantime.

Having no children, spouse,or close relatives nearby, I had the talk...with myself. I've pre-arranged my "Final Expenses" and left instructions with the Case Management people where I live. I filled out the living wills, the DNR's and the rest. All that's left is to write a will for my vast fortune which should take about 2 minutes.

Does one discuss the investments or cash that maybe be left to the children providing there is no major medical problem or is it better to leave that alone.

Great column Ronni. Thanks for covering it so well. My mother died suddenly with no instructions at all, so I know how hard it is on an only child. I have had the conversation with my on;y child and as a result had to get a "health" advocate that lives locally in case I need it. Documents are a must and long before you think it is "time", at any age you can go any time, as we all know.

I made pre-arrangements for my cremation to be completely paid for and told my children. I also told them where I want my ashes to go - they don't want to hear it, but I needed to say it. Also I am in the process of making a 'love' folder with all my accounts, passwords and my wishes for disposition of personal items. It IS freeing to me and I am happy for my financially struggling girls not to worry about the cost of the funeral.

Just a couple of notes on items that I have not seen mentioned anywhere, but which should be brought up:

* Should you move to another state, you should make sure that your will is still valid. My grandfather moved from Kansas to Florida where he later died of a stroke. His will had been drawn in Kansas and was not valid in Florida and so his wife inherited everything and his children received nothing despite his wishes expressed in his will.

* My own mother had a will, but had failed to update it when several of her children died before she did. This caused an uproar after my mom died since spouses of the deceased children inherited -- spouses that my mother never intended to leave anything to.

Such an important but difficult topic. My in-laws told us mu husband and I some things, but far from everything we needed and they did not make anything clear to my husband's only sibling, who had moved to China a few years before they passed away. We knew they had created a trust, basically as a device to protect their house in the event that one or both had to go to a nursing home some time. This was largely a popular product pedaled by lawyers in the 1990's. As it was, they moved into assisted living after my father-in-laws accident, but had no long term care insurance and the funds they still had in reserve was quickly gone through in the ten months they were there, especially after my father-in-law died and the facility insisted my mother-in-law move to the much more costly memory care floor. To be fair, she had tried to walk away a couple of times, so I suppose that was inevitable. We ended up taking her back to their house which was very workable for caring for her for the last couple of years of her life, though it meant I left my job and moved in with her to provide around the clock care, with some respite assistance, a couple of times a week. They had been very self-sufficient and independent until the bottom dropped out almost overnight. Then we discovered how much we did not know. We did the best we could, but it was quite a struggle and still has after-effects today. Wish we would have been able to talk with them more about this, but I believe they were in denial that things were going to change, especially so suddenly. All it took was one bad fall and head injury, for the spouse that had held things together, coupled with his wife's dementia that rapidly worsened when the stressors hit big time.

My kids, also, did not want to hear or talk about my dying until the last couple of years when I almost did die--numerous times.( I wrote about it in my blogs here, now in the archives if you are interested in knowing those stories.) My kids did a fast 180 and while I was still recovering from the debilitating effects of it all,they became afraid for me to be alone, and concerned about how their own busy lives (and distances) would keep them from being reliable caregivers. They were pushing me to look into nursing homes which I in no way needed yet and my own experiences in them for rehab was so horrendous I'd rather die than ever go to one again. I kept telling them I was working on solutions but in my own time frame, and finally had to get firm and tell them to back off, it was my life and my decisions. Now I have all the help I need nicely in place, and I am stronger--it just took time.

We have told our daughter about our final wishes and where the will is located. My concern is for her as I don't think she and her husband have a will and they have two small children. There has been discussion as to who would raise the grandchildren should something to their parents, but nothing definite has ever been settled.

This subject clearly needs more discussion.....

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