Having the ‘talk’ is tough but essential



My friend from the Pacific Northwest has taken good care of her mother, from a distance, for the two decades I’ve known her.

Introduce the topic of estate planning casually in a non-threatening way, such as over a meal, and tell your parent you want to set a time to talk about finances, health care and such. Photo by MangoSalute.com.

Her mother, an Asian Pacific Islander, was living alone in Hawaii until a stroke hit her this spring. A cancer survivor who had taken care of her daily needs as a diabetic, “Mom” no longer could process her words or express her thoughts to her daughter. Since then, my friend has been trying to sort out not only her mother’s medical issues, but her financial ones, attempting to figure out how the bills for the medical care she needs will be paid.

And her situation, which she has shared with her friends through her Facebook page, got me to thinking. How many of us really have talked to our parents about their final wishes and also their finances, or to our adult children about our own circumstances?

Not enough of us. In fact, in 2011, online legal company Rocket Lawyer released the results of its survey that showed that 57 percent of adults in the United States do not have a will. Of those between ages 45 and 64, close to half – 44 percent – had not drawn up one. Presumably, then, they hadn’t told their loved ones, either, about finances or desires for care should they become disabled.

Death is hard to talk about, especially when we are accustomed to taking care of our parents. But laws allow us only so much leeway to do so. We can’t sign financial documents on their behalf, sell properties or stocks to pay for medical care, or make health-care decisions in many cases without their consent.

Given my friend’s example, I have readied myself to have this discussion with my mother, who now is 80. She would trust me to make any decisions for her, I know, but doctors and hospitals and banks that must follow laws that are there for her protection don’t know that. Together, we will work on a power of attorney, a health-care proxy and a will. It’s a topic I’ve put off with her, but no more.

And as I think about that, I look to that Rocket Lawyer statistic. My husband and I fall in that critical 45-plus age range, but we haven’t told our adult son our wishes or written a will. Our son, age 23, doesn’t want to face the facts that his parents aren’t immortal; he won’t want to have this talk. But there are things he needs to know, such as what to do with the house and where to find the life insurance policies that will pay for his little brother’s college education. And, yes, we want him to finish the job of raising his brother.

And while we are having that discussion, it’s time for us, as parents, to sit with him and tell him – even at age 23 – the importance of his own planning. Now that he’s over 18, I can no longer discuss medical bills with the health insurer, even though he is on our policy. I can’t call the doctor’s office and ask about a test result. He needs us as much as we need him to be involved in everything from medical issues to bank account numbers.

The conversations with my mother and our son will be tough. Tears will be shed. They both will try to shut down the conversation. That happened when my friend tried to talk to her mother; she was told it was under control. But it wasn’t. And now that mountain of paperwork and permissions is hard to climb.

For those of us in the “sandwich generation,” as it is known – busy caring for parents as their lives wind down and guiding children as they enter their adult lives – we think we’re doing all we can for those we love. Take the extra step, today, to ask your parents about their finances, their wishes. One day, unfortunately, you will be very glad you did.


Báo Người Việt hoan nghênh quý vị độc giả đóng góp và trao đổi ý kiến. Chúng tôi xin quý vị theo một số quy tắc sau đây:

Tôn trọng sự thật.
Tôn trọng các quan điểm bất đồng.
Dùng ngôn ngữ lễ độ, tương kính.
Không cổ võ độc tài phản dân chủ.
Không cổ động bạo lực và óc kỳ thị.
Không vi phạm đời tư, không mạ lỵ cá nhân cũng như tập thể.

Tòa soạn sẽ từ chối đăng tải các ý kiến không theo những quy tắc trên.

Xin quý vị dùng chữ Việt có đánh dấu đầy đủ. Những thư viết không dấu có thể bị từ chối vì dễ gây hiểu lầm cho người đọc. Tòa soạn có thể hiệu đính lời văn nhưng không thay đổi ý kiến của độc giả, và sẽ không đăng các bức thư chỉ lập lại ý kiến đã nhiều người viết. Việc đăng tải các bức thư không có nghĩa báo Người Việt đồng ý với tác giả.

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