How to Talk to Your Parents about Transition Planning

A Sudden Transition

The phone rings. It’s the local police department calling to tell you your father got into a car accident. He’s fine, other than a few scrapes and bruises, and thankfully no one else was hurt. You think about having “the talk” with him again, the one about him giving up driving, but you know he will be angry and upset. If only you’d made a plan together in advance, he might be more willing to listen to your concerns.

Your sister sends you a text: “Mom victim of identity theft. At police station now. This is bad!” You quickly text her back and tell her you’re on your way over. As you hit send, you hope that she hasn’t lost too much money. You wonder how you can protect her assets from scammers.

Make sure Mom and Dad don't feel like these puppets. Talk to them about their transition plan.

Why is Transition Planning Important?

Statistically, most of us will live to the age of 70, some of us well beyond that. With longevity comes aging. In accordance with our culture’s obsession with youth, many of us ignore the inevitable.

As young adults, it’s important to start planning for this transition in our own lives. However, it’s especially important to talk to our parents about their transition. It can be an uncomfortable topic, especially because it involves the transfer of power. Yet, it is precisely because this issue is life-altering that we must begin talking about it sooner, rather than later. When we wait until the signs of aging become obvious, it’s usually too late for a smooth transition period. Our parents find themselves stripped of their agency and they may become resentful. We find ourselves guilty and frightened, not knowing whether we’re doing what is in their best interest.

Instead, by planning early, the transition of decision-making power can happen slowly and methodically. By allowing your parents to express their wishes you give them back their agency. You know in advance what to do and when to do it, which can mitigate potential guilt. Knowing that everyone is in agreement facilitates peace of mind.

How Do You Start The Conversation?

So how do you start the conversation? Begin slowly. Let them know you’re trying to understand their wishes, rather than dictate them. Listen, rather than speak. If they get angry or upset, try to see it from their perspective. They are probably frighted, rather than truly angry. Use yourself and your own transition planning process as an example. You can even show them this post.

Important Documentation

Once you’ve opened up the conversation, you’ll want to encourage your parents to document their wishes. The three formal documents needed are a living will, a healthcare proxy, sometimes known as a healthcare power of attorney and a financial power of attorney.

Living Will

A living will outlines your medical wishes under various circumstances, including whether you want to be resuscitated or intubated, what pain management procedures you would prefer, if any, and whether you would like to donate your organs.

A do not resuscitate and do not intubate order can also be made outside a living will. If this is the case, make a reference in your living will so there is no conflict between the documents.

Healthcare Proxy

A healthcare proxy designates a person or people to make medical decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated. Although your healthcare agent cannot usually override your living will, you should still choose someone you trust.

Financial Power of Attorney

A financial power of attorney designates a person or people to make financial decisions on your behalf. Depending on the type of power of attorney, this power can either begin immediately or at a later date, and can either end after a certain amount of time or upon death.

Your financial agent can do things like sell your home or liquidate your investments to pay for your medical care and other living expenses. Again, it is important to choose someone you trust to make decisions in your best interest.

Other Information

In addition to these formal documents, your parents should make a list of important information, including the location of key financial documents and important property, bill due dates and amounts, feeding instructions for pets, and any other important instructions. Imagine they are going away on an extended vacation and you’re taking care of their obligations while they are gone. Those are the instructions you need.

When Do You Start Transition Planning?

So when is the best time to have this conversation? The best time is right now. Your parents may still be extremely healthy and independent, but anyone can become incapacitated at any time. If you and your parents haven’t mapped out the transition period beforehand, you may either start the process too early, which can lead to anger and resentment or too late, which can lead to identity theft, unpaid taxes, or even physical injury.

The earlier you start having this conversation, and the more often you have it, the easier it will be to implement the plan you’ve created together.


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