Tackling these touchy topics now will bring your family closer—and save everyone some grief down the road.
We all avoid awkward conversations because there’s almost never a good way to broach them. But the more we dodge a sensitive subject, the more reason to just address it head on.
Sure, you’d rather be calling up your children to get the scoop on their summer vacation, or sitting down with your son or daughter to catch up over a celebratory dinner. But you also need to carve out time to talk about something neither you nor your kids much like: aging.
“Our culture is very much in denial about aging,” says Carolyn Rosenblatt, R.N., J.D., an elder law attorney and mediator who runs AgingInvestor.com. “We’ve long valued ourselves by how successful we are, and we don’t really value things like leisure and rest as much. So naturally, there’s a resistance for retired people to get into what it’s like to not always be productive.”
But the longer you avoid issues related to aging, the more you put your wellness, finances, and family at risk. Tackle these touchy topics now, and you’ll put yourself and your family in a better position for the future.
Conversation #1: “Here Are My Assets”
Even if you’ve been a responsible saver your whole life, your prudence may not matter if you’re the only one with the keys to all your financial accounts. If something happens to you, your family needs to know how much money you have and how to access it, Rosenblatt says.
“We all have a fantasy that we’re going to be completely healthy and in total control of ourselves until we die peacefully in our sleep on our 100th birthday,” she says. “And because that fantasy pervades, that precludes the necessity in our minds for talking about finances.”
Your best move: Share your information. “Sit down and say, ‘Here’s what I’ve got, here’s how much I’m worth, here’s my bank account number, and here’s my password,’” Rosenblatt says. Apprehensive? It’s not like you’re handing over your secrets to Russian spies—just the people you’d want caring for you in case of an emergency.
Conversation #2: “Please Keep These Documents Handy”
Don’t stop with money matters. You should really make sure your children can unlock other important accounts if you’re no longer able to, Rosenblatt says. In fact, that’s exactly how you should frame it. Say, “In case of a sudden event or an accident, you might not know how to help me. You might not know how to pay my mortgage or insurance bills, and it would give me peace of mind if you had that information.”
So what else should you share with your children?
Power of attorney: Rosenblatt says she’s always surprised by how many families can’t find—or don’t even have—a notarized durable power of attorney document, which allows an appointed agent to take over your finances when you can’t control them anymore. Your kids should have access to this document.
Advance directive: The majority of hospitals require you to have a signed advance directive document—which expresses your end-of-life wishes—when you’re admitted for care, Rosenblatt says. But instead of waiting until a hospitalization, nip it in the bud now, and let your children know where to find it.
Insurance policies: Prepare a document with every policy you have—life, disability, health, property—and where each one is stored. Rosenblatt says beneficiaries miss out on millions of dollars in life insurance proceeds every year because they don’t know the policies exist—or even that they’re beneficiaries in the first place.
Doctor and medication lists: If you suddenly get sick, your kids will need to know which doctors to call and your medication regimen. List all of your providers, and make sure to request written permission for your family to speak with them. This is crucial: Federal law prohibits doctors from talking to just anyone, Rosenblatt says. Ask your docs for a “release of information” or HIPAA form; it might look something like this.
Conversation #3: “I Need Your Help”
If your spouse unexpectedly passes away, don’t be afraid to lean on your children often. “Loneliness is a huge problem today,” Rosenblatt says. “Some people never consider that they’ll be alone. When the initial shock wears off, that’s when your children can be of tremendous help with compassion, kindness, and just showing up.”
Call your kids at a set time every day, and ask to tag along to events in their lives. (They’ll likely want you around even more than you want to be there.) Asking is difficult, but be upfront and honest about your need for structure. “This serves as a distraction from grieving,” Rosenblatt says. “It’s an organizing force that enables people to move forward.”
Conversation #4: “Here’s What You Don’t Know About Me”
Fortunately, this conversation is much more fun than the others—but no less important. It’s imperative that your kids know as much about your family history as possible, so they can pass on your legacy—and your parents’ legacies, and their parents’ legacies—to future generations. “Parents are the gatekeepers of the family history,” Rosenblatt says, and Ancestry.com only scratches the surface.
Arrange an “interview” with your children, Rosenblatt suggests. It can be in the guise of a regular family get-together, but make sure your kids have their iPhone, Android, or video camera handy to record your conversation. Say something like, “I want to tell you all about our family because there will never be another way for your kids to find out,” Rosenblatt says. And then fire away, no holds barred.
Your chat will bring you even closer than you already are. Your children will learn so many things about you that they never knew—and vice versa.