A death in the family always creates confusion. The survivors must deal with grief as they work to ensure that the deceased’s final wishes are honored. That can be more difficult if they don’t know what those final wishes are.
“Sometimes, after parents are gone, you end up digging through papers. It’s much easier to have the conversation ahead of time,” said Jim Hurley, owner of the Schenectady and Albany franchise of Home Instead Senior Care.
A 2014 study found that seven in 10 families have not had an adequate discussion regarding aging and end-of-life topics. The same study found that, of those that do have the discussion, 70 percent are prompted by a health crisis or another emergency, which Hurley said is far from the ideal time to have this discussion.
The report also recommends that every family have this conversation before the parents are 70 and their children are 40. The idea is that having the conversation about aging and end of life makes things easier later on.
Hurley said that despite the importance of the conversation, it is not an easy one to have, as parents are used to being the ones in control.
“Often times as the children and parents age, the roles get a little bit reversed,” he said. “The parents begin to rely on the adult children. They rely on them, but they don’t want to be told what to do by them.”
Hurley said that the problems created by the conversation are easy to deal with if it is done ahead of time. He said something as simple as assigning a health care proxy is far more difficult when a parent has been hospitalized or is no longer cognitive.
“It’s difficult at that point to have an attorney involved to pass on their legal rights,” he said.
He also said financial information is important. The study found that two-thirds of all end-of-life issues that end up in court could have been avoided if they had been discussed ahead of time.
“There are definitely financial issues,” he said. “Most adult children are not up to speed with their parents’ finances.”
Despite its importance, Hurley explained that this is not a conversation that should be had without any warning. He recommended that there be a separate time and even a separate place so that the distractions of the home do not come into play.
Through Home Instead Senior Care, Hurley has overseen the creation of a separate website, 4070talk.com, which offers various resources to make the conversation easier.
The website includes conversation-starting exercises, suggestions and topics that should be discussed. Hurley said that too often he sees the conversation taking place when it is almost too late. He hopes more people will begin to have these important conversations sooner rather than later.