Talking to your ageing parents about their future can be difficult. It is, however, often necessary to take the first step and start a conversation so that important decisions about their future can be made. We know how hard it can be even broaching these subjects, let alone trying to support your parent through the process as they face up to a new reality and consider taking steps to plan for their futures.
There are many important areas that need to be discussed when it comes to the future such as finances, care home fees, Wills and even what happens to your parents if they become ill and can no longer make decisions for themselves. These are not easy topics, yet they must be tackled so that you can ensure legal matters are in place before anything happens. A calm discussion about the future is the primary goal, where things can be put in place to provide everyone with reassurance and peace of mind.
We have put together some advice on how to approach legal issues with older people and achieve positive outcomes. We appreciate that everyone is different, that relationships will vary hugely as will the situation and circumstances and that is why Burt Brill & Cardens Solicitors offer a bespoke legal service. However, these strategies and tips can serve as useful pointers to guide you through the initial conversations.
1. Don’t Put it Off
It can be difficult talking to your parents about their future as it often forces you both to ultimately face-up to the possibility of ill health and even death. It is therefore all too easy to delay and find excuses to not discuss it. However, by tackling any questions and concerns early, you give yourself the best opportunity to get financial and legal matters in place.
Psychologist Phillip Hodson (counselling.co.uk) explains that there are various strategies children can employ to broach the subject of finance with their ageing parents, but states: “it’s always better to do it sooner, before the parents are getting too old or confused, rather than later.”
2. Put Yourself in their Position
Think about the concerns you would have if you were in their shoes. What are their biggest worries? Where are the areas of resistance likely to be? Speak to others who may be in a similar position or even go through some of the legal processes yourself like registering a Lasting Power of Attorney and making a Will so you can be in a position to empathise. Telling your parent about your own plans may also help to get the process moving.
You may find that your parents are concerned about being a burden on you. Alternatively, they could be in denial about the fact they are getting older, that their health may be deteriorating and that they are moving closer to death. Thinking about Wills and Lasting Power of Attorney can force them to face up to these points. They may also see these steps to safe-guarding their future as relinquishing some control of their own fate – in these instances stubbornness can be a common defense mechanism.
As well as thinking about how your parents are feeling, it’s worth thinking about what issues you may have with the conversation and acknowledge them. It’s not easy to think about the ill health or death of a parent: someone that has cared for you and now requires the same from you. This role reversal can be a difficult issue to process. You also don’t want them to think that you are doing this for your own self-interest, especially in terms of inheritance.
3. Make a Plan
It can take a long time to be in a position to openly discuss legal and financial issues with your parent(s) and start to work together towards appropriate solutions and actions. It’s therefore important not to rush and allow sufficient time to broach the subject in the right way as well as allowing for a period of adjustment so they can come to terms with what has been discussed. It is only then that you can realistically consider the options.
Having a plan is important as it means you are prepared for this process. Wait until the location, atmosphere and situation is suitable – a family meal can be ideal for broaching the subject. If you have siblings then you may wish to chat to them about how you can work together to help them open up and discuss issues. It also avoids you both bringing up the future with them independently and making them feel like they are being ganged up on.
As good as a plan is, you need to remember you are having a conversation with a parent and that it needs to be as natural as possible. Adapt to the conversation and let them lead it rather than forcing them into shutting down the conversation altogether.
4. Think about how to say things
It’s not just about what you say but how you say it. Having spent a considerable amount of time stewing over the issues, considering your justifications and making a plan, the tendency is to then unload every point as soon as you start chatting. This can lead to you being blunt or unnatural in your conversation. Rattling off all of your carefully-planned solutions to their problems in one go will only serve to push them away and make them uncomfortable. The secret is to ease into it, calmly and naturally.
Get them to share their concerns or to realise that they have areas to be concerned about rather than you coming out with it directly. The best approach is to listen to them carefully and steer them towards the topic and then towards solutions so that they arrive at them themselves.
If your parents have recently mentioned an issue that could be related to a legal or financial matter then you can use this as a natural way into the conversation. Alternatively, if you know someone who has been in a similar position, use it as an anecdote to lead into the conversation. For example, you may have a neighbour or family friend who has recently got a Lasting Power of Attorney or you may have recently looked at amending a Will yourself.
Again, it is important to reiterate that this is not a quick process and may take several conversations over as many months. Saying things in the right way and not forcing the conversation should give you the best chance of succeeding.
With any advice, you must take into account the personality of your parent or loved one. The approach as detailed above seems to be the most effective but there are cases where your parent may respond better to you being open, direct and honest. If you think this is the best tactic then you will want to clearly and concisely explain the problems and solutions in a supportive way.
5. Give them Time
Once you’ve had the initial conversation with your ageing parent, it’s important to give them a chance to think about the issues before bringing it up again. You don’t want them to feel under pressure and like they are being forced into making decisions. Chances are that once they have had time to think about it, they will want to discuss them further.
6. Reflective Listening
As mentioned in section 4, you want your parents to feel in control and know that any decision they make in securing their future legally and financially is their own. One way you can reinforce this is through reflective listening. This involves listening carefully to what they are saying, understanding their concerns and then rephrasing what they have said and repeating it back to them. By following this process, you demonstrate that you have heard and understood them and are there to support them. It also allows them to move to deeper levels of expression and to reflect on what they have said and come to solutions themselves.
When you are aware of a potential solution to your parent’s situation, it can be tempting to say: “Oh you have problem A, well solution B will solve this.” However, this directness can put them off the idea and force them to raise objections. It is more productive to help them to realise the solutions through reflective listening until they arrive at the solution themselves.
7. Reiterating Pros and Cons of Action
During the subsequent conversations, you will want to draw their attention to the pros and cons of them taking action. When it comes to making a Will, for example, let them know that if there is no Will in place when they pass away that their estate will be dealt with according to the rules of intestacy. This means for estates under £250,000, everything automatically goes to the spouse. If this is not what they want then they will need a Will to set out who gets what. It is important to reiterate that both with Wills and a Lasting Power of Attorney, it is a legal way to make sure their wishes are honoured.
Get them to think about who should manage these assets during their lifetime if they become unable to do so and who they want to make decisions about their medical care and finances if they can no longer make them.
You can also suggest articles or leaflets and brochures for them to read. Again, by approaching it this way you are allowing them to make the decisions themselves. By reiterating the pros and cons you will seem impartial and simply helping them consider their options.
Eventually, by following these stages with time and patience, you will reach a point where you can visit a solicitor together. Ensure that it is a solicitor that has experience with dealing with older people and can take the time to answer all of their concerns.
Burt Brill & Cardens Solicitors
At Burt Brill & Cardens Solicitors we have been dealing with the sensitive situations around older people and future-planning for many years. We take the time to put them at ease, even meeting them at their homes if they wish, in order to discuss the full range of options available to them. Lasting Powers of Attorney and Wills naturally come together alongside inheritance tax planning and we can take you and them through any questions you may have. Call us today to discuss how we can help on 01273 604123 or visit our office in central Brighton or we can arrange an appointment across Sussex.
Useful Resources for Help with Ageing Parents
The Society of Later Life Advisers (SOLLA) assists families in finding trusted accredited financial advisers who understand financial needs in later life.
Care Aware offer elderly care funding advice in the UK
Our Guide to Groups and Activities for Older People