Ninety percent of people who responded to a nationwide survey said they know they should talk to a family member about end-of-life care and becoming power of attorney—but only 30 percent of them actually had.
The top reasons for delaying conversations about becoming power of attorney were that it was too early because the loved one wasn’t sick yet, the subject makes them uncomfortable, they don’t want to upset their loved one, and the time just never seems right.
Anybody who has thought about talking to a parent about becoming power of attorney knows how difficult and uncomfortable it can be. But the vast majority of those who do have that conversation say that it made their loved one’s final days a slightly more positive experience.
Simply put, conversations about becoming power of attorney and end-of-life planning can be difficult—but they’re worth having. Having the conversation early on, hearing their wishes instead of telling them your wishes, and bringing documents to them to follow through are the keys.
Start the Power-of-Attorney Conversation When Your Parent Is Well
When it comes to conversations about end-of-life planning and becoming power of attorney, the phrase “It’s always too early until it’s too late” is often thrown out—and it couldn’t be truer.
Nobody knows what the future holds. It may seem too early to have these conversations today, but it may be too late to have them tomorrow. People often say the timing never feels right to start the conversation. If a direct approach isn’t for you, there might be subtler openings to look for:
- If your parent tells you about a friend or relative who’s been in the hospital, you could ask, “Mom, have you thought about what your wishes would be in that situation?”
- Asking your parent about his or her experience with his or her parents’ end-of-life planning could open the door to a conversation.
- Talking about one of your friends’ experiences with end-of-life planning for his or her parent (even if it’s not completely true) can also help transition into a conversation about becoming power of attorney.
Oftentimes, the hardest part about having conversations about power of attorney and end-of-life planning is simply starting the conversation. But starting the conversation will bring you a sense of relief, and it will help ensure that your parent’s end-of-life wishes are respected.
Do More Listening than Talking During the Power-of-Attorney Conversation
Your parent has most likely thought about a power of attorney and other matters related to end-of-life planning, and he or she might have even taken some steps to put those plans into action without your knowledge. After all, these conversations can be hard for parents to start, too.
Be prepared to listen to what your parent’s thoughts are and what steps he or she has already taken. Make sure you hear him or her out before voicing any opinions of your own. It’s OK to ask questions, but arguing or debating plans you might not agree with probably won’t be helpful early on in the process. Don’t expect to get everything wrapped up in one or two conversations. Rather, open a dialogue and work toward next steps.
Make Sure You Hit Key Points and Bring Documents to Your Parent
Don’t expect your parent to go out and find the documents that he or she will need to name a power of attorney and take care of other end-of-life planning matters on his or her own. Instead, bring the documents to him or her and find answers to any questions he or she might have.
These are a few of the key points that you’ll want to make sure to address in your conversations about becoming power of attorney:
- Advanced Care Directive: Also known as a “living will,” an Advanced Care Directive (find your state’s here) enables your parent to make his or her wishes for end-of-life care clear and to appoint a healthcare power of attorney to make medical decisions if he or she is no longer able to.
- Financial Power of Attorney: Your parent should appoint a family member to act on his or her behalf in financial matters like paying bills, sorting out benefits, transferring money between accounts, and home and car sales as financial or durable power of attorney (find your state’s documents here).
- HIPAA Release: The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) prevents medical providers from providing certain medical information to unauthorized people; having your parent give certain family members who don’t have power of attorney access to that information on a HIPAA release form could be a critical step.
By tracking down, printing, and bringing power-of-attorney documents to your parent, you’ll ensure that nothing falls between the cracks and that every loose end is securely tied.
Wrapping It Up: Talking to Your Parent About Becoming Power of Attorney
Talking to a parent about becoming power of attorney can be difficult, but the conversation is worth having. Making your parent’s wishes for end-of-life care known and communicating his or her decisions about power of attorney to the family will help relieve any tension that could arise in a medical emergency. Starting the conversation, listening to your parent’s wishes, and ensuring that he or she follows through by filling out and filing the right forms and documents will bring you, your family, and your parent comfort.