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Baby boomers and their aging parents often shy away from discussion about money, estate planning and health care. But to avoid emotional and financial pain later, now is the By: Liz Pulliam
Time to Talk
The fear of losing control has been cemented in many older adults by their experiences during World War II and the Depression, Richards said. Self-sufficiency is often prized, and any form of help is often frowned on - whether it’s help from their children or from government sponsored aid such as Meals on Wheels, respite care or other programs that can help alleviate a caretaker’s burden. Some have trouble even contemplating the possibility that they may not be able to care for themselves someday, Richards said.
"They’re the original up-by-your-bootstraps generation. They’re not going to ask for help not,"she said.
It may be particularly difficult for parents to seek or accept help or advice from children simply because it’s an uncomfortable role reversal, said Geraldine Champion, an elder-law and estate-planning lawyer in San Luis Obispo.
"You can be 50 years old and they’re going to look at you and still see the infant in diapers," said Champion, a former board member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.
Pride can be a roadblock as well. Some parents may not have their financial information will organized, or they may have suffered investment reversals or other financial setbacks that they’re unwilling to share, said Victoria Collins, an Irvine certified financial planner who has a doctorate in psychology.
"They may not have been as successful as they’ve led their children to believe all these years," Collins said.
Adult children can be equally conflicted. They may be concerned about appearing greedy or uncaring if they ask their parents questions about their assets or estate planning. And bringing up issues about incapacity - who should make decisions about finances or health care if the parent is unable - can spark suspicions in the parent that the child is trying to take over. It can also lead to conflicts with siblings.
The result: Some boomers may be even more reluctant that their parents to start discussions.
Huntington Beach lawyer Ellen Lowe, who creates estate plans for many Leisure World residents in Seal Beach, said many of her older clients complain they can’t get their children to participate in discussions about incapacity or estate planning.
"They say, ‘My kids don’t want to talk about it.’ That happens a lot," Lowe said.
For many adult children, facing their parent’s mortality involves facing their own. The conflicts can be so great that one or more siblings may fight attempts to discuss even a clearly deteriorating parent, insisting that everything is fine.
Old family patterns and problems can interfere as well. Some siblings may believe others will get favorable treatment in a will or estate plan, and attempts to talk about planning can deteriorate into "You were always the favorite!" accusations.
At the same time, parents may indeed play favorites and may resist hearing a message from one child that they would take seriously from another.
"There always seems to be one child that is more trusted that any of the others," Champion noted.
Despite all of these potential obstacles to initiating talks about the future, experts say the stakes are so high that few families can afford to ignore the subject. Issues of serious future financial burden may well be avoided by better planning early on.
Champion often suggests that children meet first as a group to determine what needs to be discussed, then meet with the parents - again as a unit - to outline their concerns. Both discussions should stay on point as much as possible, with a goal of maintaining family harmony rather than rehashing family problems, she said.
"The holidays are coming up now and families will be getting together," Champion said. "It can be a good time for the group to say: ‘We’re really concerned. Not about your estate - we want you to spend all your money and enjoy your life - but about preserving the highest quality of life for you as long as possible.’"
Some families may find it helpful to bring in a professional, such as an elder-law attorney or financial planner skilled in dealing with older people, to facilitate these discussions or to at least be available for later questions, said Champion.
Consult an elder-law attorney if necessary. If your parent has become incapable of managing financial affairs or personal affairs and refuses to delegate these tasks to someone else, it may be necessary to establish a conservatorship. This is a legal procedure that allows someone else to make decisions for a particular individual.
The procedure can be expensive and intrusive, stripping the parent of many legal rights and requiring periodic reports to the courts, so it should be considered as a last resort.
The local bar association or the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys at (520) 881-4005 can provide referrals.
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Geraldine E. Champion, Attorney at Law The Law Offices of Geraldine E. Champion 182 South 10th Street Grover Beach, CA 93433 Tel: (805) 473-4747
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