Several years ago, following a presentation on important documents for seniors, I asked my husband what his final wishes would be and what he would want me to do in case he was unable to make medical decisions for himself. “Oh, you’ll know what to do,” was his answer. End of discussion—for a while.
We’d had wills for a long time and with each new state of residence had them updated to meet state codes. But that was as far as we’d gone. Then each of us became an executor for a family member on each side, and we soon realized that even with good wills, being an executor wasn’t the easiest job in the world.
So we resumed our discussion about important matters facing us as we are growing older. As the parents of an only child, some things are easier. We have tried to spell out what we mean in our wills and in our medical powers of attorney, as well as power of authority for financial matters and have pre-arranged our funerals. When we first approached the subject with our daughter, she really didn’t want to read any of our documents. We were soon leaving on a trip, so I left the material on the kitchen table and asked her to please read it before we left. She did and gave us a concise summary of what took a lawyer several pages to write.
Talking about your last will and testament or your wishes for receiving or refusing medical care does not mean that anything is imminent. We should do it while we are still very sound of mind and can explain it to our families. Each family has a different dynamic concerning such matters, and only you know the best way to approach them.
Perhaps the death of a friend or a member of the family would give you an opening to gently move into the subject of wills, and then other important matters. It’s not usually overwhelmingly well received on your first try. But don’t take that as disinterest; rather it’s usually a subject that children, at whatever age, don’t want to think about when it comes to a parent’s final days.
Approaching it as something you’re doing for them, so they won’t be burdened with a lot of “what ifs?” could be a starting point. It truly is a gift to your family, and one that should be given sooner rather than later. With the holiday season upon us, when families are gathering together, what better time than to let them know you’ve done some forward planning and you know (or maybe hope) they’ll understand and support you. It might work to say to the family, “We have something to discuss with you” at an appropriate time, probably after the feasting and football are over. For other families, it may be easier to tackle one family unit at a time. The advantage of doing it when as many as possible are present is there can be no misunderstanding among siblings. You can solicit their opinions if that makes things go more smoothly.
You’ll likely feel quite relieved when all is said and done.
Robson is the author of “Over My Shoulder: Tales of Life and Death and Everything In Between.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org