Adult children need to talk with parents about the future


Published: Sunday, January 14, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 14, 2007 at 12:21 a.m.
Kristi Adams was a 27-year-old working mom when her 57-year-old father was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's.
''I never knew what 'sandwich generation' meant until this,'' she said, referring to the term coined for people squished between the needs of their aging parents and their own young children.
For Kristi, now 35, the diagnosis began a confusing, eye-opening and often painful navigation through mazes of paperwork, government assistance programs and her parents' assets as she tried to take care of her dad's immediate needs and preserve her shocked mother's retirement security.
Last year, she became a financial adviser, a career choice inspired in part by her family circumstances. She recalled telling herself, in making the decision: ''You have to do this because you know what it means for people. You know the heartache.''
Now she's on a quest to make sure that all of her clients sit down with their loved ones and talk about what happens if someone gets sick.
It's something her family never found the time for; they figured they had all the time in the world.
Those conversations aren't easy. But if you decide to bravely broach the topic with your relatives, here are some tips from Adams and Carrie Schwab Pomerantz, co-author with her father, Charles Schwab, of the book, ''It Pays to Talk: How to Have Essential Conversations with Your Family About Money and Investing.''
  • Sooner rather than later: Schwab Pomerantz suggests initiating the conversation sooner rather than later because healthy, young parents might be more willing to talk about aging and illness when it feels far away.
  • 'If I were you. . .': Another strategy is to tackle the conversation indirectly. Ask your parents for advice about your own estate plan. ''Of course they love to give kids their advice,'' she said. Then casually switch to how they're managing their estate.
  • Use current events: Newsworthy events such as 9-11 or Hurricane Katrina serve as great catalysts for talks about how to be prepared for whatever life dishes out. If there isn't a recent news event to lean on, try the classic ''fictional friend'' approach and ask your loved ones about what they'd do in her shoes.
  • Get everyone involved: Adams lives five miles from her mom's home and from the nursing home where her dad lives. Naturally, she's taken on a larger role than her sister, who lives in northern Minnesota. While this is common, Schwab Pomerantz recommends that all siblings take part in the conversation and understand their parents' finances and wishes.
    After all, children may have expectations that they'll receive an inheritance from their parents or will get help paying for their own kids' college tuition. An illness or unexpected expense could derail those plans.
  • Ask for help: If the conversation isn't flowing and you'd like someone to facilitate, or you're already facing an illness, both Adams and Schwab Pomerantz suggest finding an experienced estate-planning attorney who can assist with paperwork for government programs, writing wills and filling out health care directives and other documents.
  • Consider long-term care: Some critics say long-term care policies are expensive and may prove to be a bad deal. But Adams wishes her dad had one. ''Long-term care insurance gives people options,'' she said.
  • Not just one conversation: Don't give up if at first your parents aren't terribly receptive to the topics. Discussing our parents' health and finances are ''by far the most difficult of conversations because it involves role reversal,'' Schwab Pomerantz said. So take one from the parenting playbook: Nag them. Nagging isn't fun, nor is being nagged, but having a plan to take care of the ones we love is worth the trouble.
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