Remember when you were young and cool?
Your parents did gobs of things you thought were nerdy. Why? Because they were old and you were young.
It was your job to be the arbiter of cool.
But here’s the thing. They weren’t really old. They were probably younger than you are right now. Yikes, huh?
And here’s the other thing. And this is the BIG thing. Now your parents actually ARE old.
While some of our more ‘seasoned citizens’ keep on rocking well past what many consider their prime (like the elder George Bush celebrating his 90th birthday by skydiving) your not-quite-Presidential parents have started to slow down.
If you don’t have some frank discussions soon, their capacity to enlighten you will eventually be about as strong as their computer savvy.
1. Have “The Talk”
Get your mind out of the gutter. That’s not “The Talk” I’m talking about. I’m talking about a conversation about how much planning they’ve done and where and how you can access that information when the time comes to put it to use. Where are the bank accounts? Who is the insurance agent? Where is the car title? Trying to decipher the situation once someone has dementia can be like trying to teach your cat to read (impolitely blunt but true), so don’t wait on this one.
TIP: Make it about you so they don’t get defensive. After all, they spent years doling out advice, right? There is a reason they’re called senior citizens. “Hey dad, I’m starting to plan for my own retirement. What have you done, and what advice can you give me?” If the answer is a blank stare, at least you’ll get some idea of the chore ahead of you.
2. Ask Them What They Need
Ask your parents what things in their life seem more difficult at their age, if any. Then at least you’ll have a map to work from. Hopefully they’ll be honest and not give you the evil eye. “Worry about your own damn self, whippersnapper!” is not the answer you’re looking for. Sometimes the best way to gain more insight into their personal situation is by making yourself indispensable. On top of being a roundabout way of gaining greater access to information you’ll otherwise wish you had, it goes a long way to making you the child that other parents would envy.
TIP: Make this a common and earnest point of discussion with your parents. Sometimes the easiest ways to help are the ones we’ve never contemplated. Make sure your inquiry doesn’t come across as a trite “how are you?” Make sure they know you mean it and want to help them.
3. Call Your Freaking Mother For Pete’s Sake!
According to PsychCentral.com, the number one thing an aging parent wants from their kids is to hear from them. It might be a worn-out piece of advice, but please – call your damn mother at least once a week. She really did go through 9 months of hell and 48 hours of seriously intensive hell to bring you into this world. A phone call is the least you can do.
TIP: Make this a habit. Do not pat yourself on the back for a monthly call. Pat yourself on the back for thrice weekly calls. Once you talk enough to cover the mundane, you’ll have a better chance of gaining real insight.
4. Take Them Skydiving
Well, okay. Skydiving is probably best reserved for the senior Bush. But you CAN help keep your parents active. Physical and mental activities improve every aspect of life. They help mood, mental acuity, and overall health. As your ‘rents move up in age, they slow way down, and might cut back on trips out of the easy chair. Talk them into a walk. Check out church activities. Contemplate community events. (I hear tell that anybody under 60 who attends a quilting bee gets a special commendation or something.)
TIP: Ask them about their friends. Bottom line – somebody they know does something. Encourage them along, and maybe they’ll do something too. (Paintball is probably out of the question.)
5. Take Action on “The Talk”
Here’s the ultimate goal. Do what you can to make sure their affairs are in order and life is as uncomplicated for them (and you) as possible. Set up automatic payments for their bills. Ask them about health care wishes. Help them organize their estate documents and any other important papers. (You’ll eventually need to find the title to that ’86 Crown Victoria, right?)
TIP: Use your technology genius as an excuse to help. You were born with a mouse in your hand and a flash drive on your keyring. Tell them about handy online tools designed to help them get their information in order and to make sure they’ve addressed everything. Estate Map is one excellent example, and if you use the promo code “SKYDIVE” by the end of January, you’ll get 20% off the first year. Go to https://estatemap.com to check it out.
Guide your parents through it and you can both check it off your list. After all, even if the whole “good child” thing doesn’t convince you, the Crown Vic is definitely worth it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Joe Henderson is founder of Estate Map, which happens to be a cool tool to start estate conversations with loved ones (yes, like your parents, duh). He is an experienced estate attorney and is honored among his peers as a Super Lawyer; rated “AV-preeminent” with Martindale-Hubbell; and rated “superb” with AVVO. Joe lost his mom on May 23, 2011 but continues to have multiple estate planning conversations with his dad.