Discussing our mortality with anyone, but certainly our family, is difficult. It’s interesting because it’s a common denominator in every living thing. Death is as much a part of life as breathing. As elder care lawyers, we know how difficult opening the conversation can be. We have families too. There’s always a way, you just have to figure out the best approach.
End of Life by the Numbers
According to The Conversation Project, a public education campaign founded to encourage open discussion about end of life matters, 9 out of 10 people want to have those conversations – whether it’s the adult child or elderly parent. What’s most interesting is only 3 out of 10 families have successfully had that discussion. Some say that while they want to ensure they have the talk at some point, it’s not necessarily a priority. Another 21 percent said it was too uncomfortable to bring up so they’ll wait for someone else to do so and 19 percent don’t want to upset their families. Half say they would welcome the opportunity to discuss end of life care if they were approached by their family members.
Many of us have probably casually said, after seeing the evening news about a horrific accident, “If I’m ever like that, please don’t let me stay that way.” Then, we’re back to doing whatever it was two minutes earlier, never giving it a second thought. Imagine those words floating in your family member’s mind as he or she learns that you’re on life support, and perhaps in a similar situation. And then they learn there’s no will, no living will or no medical power of attorney. You can be sure it’s likely an incredibly devastating thought process for them and anyone else who seeks to honor your wishes, though are uncertain of what they are and frankly, unable to do much because the legal documents aren’t in place. And by the way, don’t forget about HIPAA laws. They may be the biggest obstacle when there is no medical power of attorney in place.
For many, that scenario is enough to abandon the sensitive approach in lieu of a visit with their estate planning lawyer. Those end of life directives, wills, trusts, powers of attorney and more that will not only ensure your final wishes are met, but your family isn’t left wondering if they made the right decision.
Start and Move Forward
You might be surprised to learn just how easy the conversation can flow once the door’s been opened. A simple comment of, “I made an appointment to meet with the attorney about my will next week. I want to get together after that so I can tell you what’s what,” can work wonders. Also, The Conversation Project suggests a family meeting versus a one on one conversation is the right approach. Schedule a family dinner with your siblings and parents. Make a list of questions and topics you need clarity on, let them know ahead of time what you want to discuss (there’s nothing more unsettling than showing up and realizing you’re not discussing the family vacation). Once the conversation begins flowing, odds are, their questions will be answered before they’re even asked.
Finally, be sure to support each other’s decisions. Offer to go with them to meet the estate planning attorney if they’re comfortable with that (or if you’re the one meeting with the attorney, if someone offers to go, you may want to consider it). Once those avenues have been cleared, you are all in a much better position to enjoy life in the way it was meant.