Helping Families Flourish


Writing the final chapter of a life is an act of love

June 01, 2018 3:51 PM | Deleted user

Having “The Talk” For Elder Life Planning

By Irving S. Capitel & Allen Siegel

As the end of a life approaches, a certain discussion is needed to put one’s affairs in order. That difficult conversation is essential on two levels. The more challenging level is emotional, as it acknowledges the sad, inevitable ending and begins the process of “closing shop”. Once acknowledged, it opens the door for the pragmatic level − the concrete plans for death, distribution of inheritances, family expectations.  

The last act drama in the circle of life involves letting go and people respond to it differently. The comfortable acceptance of one’s death requires surrender − giving up control over one’s life. Giving up thoughts of invincibility and recognizing that I am impermanent.

The reality of our impermanence is referred to as our transience. It has been said the relative comfortable acceptance of one’s dying is probably the most difficult, yet most important psychological accomplishment of a person’s life.

With the courage to see what’s there to be seen we become able to create a will, or a trust and other “last act” documents that are part of a plan that is needed to protect those we dearly love. It will be easier for everyone when the family has “The Talk,” that gives everyone an opportunity to express their feelings and concerns.

Disability, death, and money are matters no one likes to talk about but time is essential. The time to talk is now, while everyone is mentally and physically capable. Don’t wait until a crisis impacts your judgment and abilities. It’s critical for you to be proactive rather than reactive. Talk about the challenges of aging and share your feelings about that with your children, your trustee, and your executor. These issues are sensitive and might require a professional to help guide you through the conversation.

Having said all this, let’s talk about exploring the possible scenarios of Elder Life Planning with the inner circle of family members that can occur in a safe and confidential environment. The focus of “The Talk” is the family’s articulation of issues connected to aging. Who knows what issues will affect you in your elder years, or how they will impact your family members: your spouse, your partner, your children, and your siblings?

Here is a list of important subjects that are part of the “last act conversation” we suggest you have with your family. They include, BUT ARE NOT LIMITED TO:

1. Do you have health care and property powers of attorney?

2. If so, who are the decision-makers and are they aware of their responsibilities?

3. Have you communicated your decisions to others?

4. Do you have thoughts about do-not-resuscitate orders? If so, what are they?

5. Who will decide whether or not to “pull-the-plug?”

6. Do you have a prepaid funeral plan? Do you have life insurance and long-

term health care insurance? Who knows about these items?

7. Have you decided how to dispose of your earthly remains? How will your memory be maintained?

8. Who will be helpful in case you need assistance?

9. What if nursing care is needed?

10. Who will take responsibility for helping or sharing with the help?

11. Do you have a will? Who are your beneficiaries? Who is your executor?

12. Do you have a successor executor?

13. Do you have a trust? Who is your trustee and your successor trustee?

14. Do these people know they are named?

15. Do they know what they all need to do and the extent of their responsibilities? Have you shared your thoughts about how you would like your estate and trust to be administered?

16. Do trusted people know where your assets are and how property titles are held?

Is there a family business that needs consideration?

17. Have you made plans for all of your computer passwords, digital media presence, and getting your “digital affairs” in order?

18. Ultimately, where is everything? How are things to be handled? What are your wishes and what are theirs and how will these coincide to meet each of your goals?

A family meeting that considers all these matters actually is an act of love. This list we provide can be your guide. It will help you prepare essential documents.

Regarding “The Talk”, any family member can initiate it. You can name the time and place of the meeting. An invitation should be extended to everyone whom you believe is an important part of your life and now of your dying. Do this before you go to your estate lawyer to have your final documents drawn up. It will be a tremendous help for you.

If your family feels overwhelmed by these anticipatory recommendations, this process, as we’ve suggested, can be aided by a skilled, experienced lawyer/mediator who can function as a “neutral” family facilitator.

To insure that the professionals you engage, if you choose to do that, agree to guide you and not troll for legal referrals, they should not accept any requests for legal representation by any of the participants in the conversation.

The following questions will help guide you and your family:

1. Where is everything?

2. What will need to be done?

3. Who are the players?

4. What are they willing to do to help?

5. What are everyone’s thoughts and how can they work together to accomplish the common goals?

6. How can the risk of disagreement, misunderstanding, stress, and financial issues be reduced?

These planning meetings could also include those who you select as your executor and trustee (if applicable). You want everyone involved in your ending process to understand the process so that they can make the administration of events understandable. It will ease the process and make it as smooth as possible.

Once we deal with our mortality the life we have can get better. Try it and see.

Irving S. Capitel  Irving is a member of the Chicago Trustee Collaboratory (CTC).  He can be reached at 847-212-6611

Allen Siegel   Allen  is a member of the Chicago Trustee Collaboratory (CTC).

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Helping Families Flourish! The Chicago Trustee Collaboratory is a not-for-profit professional association helping families and their trusted advisors understand and manage their family trusts.

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