What’s left to plan? The end game, of course. The conversation no one wants to have.
Dorothy Bossung, executive vice president at Lowery Asset Consulting in Chicago, has seen wealthy executives die without a will in place, only to have their spouses drag their feet on their own documents later.
Other times, couples who do create health care directives get into awkward conversations late in life when a sick partner wants to pursue aggressive treatment plans that contradict the original directive.
“You can absolutely change your mind as a patient, but I’ve watched the dynamics. A husband decided to do chemotherapy, and every time he went, his wife would ask why he was continuing to do it,” she said.
About five years ago a company called Death Over Dinner launched a website (deathoverdinner.org) that lets users send articles about various aspects of dying to friends and family and invite them over to dinner to discuss them. The company claims more than 100,000 people hosted these dinners in the early going. The basic idea is to get a conversation started about the family’s values and legacy, a precursor to drafting legal documents such as wills and healthcare directives.
Fidelity offers basic tips for starting the conversation here: https://www.fidelity.com/growing-managing-wealth/estate-planning/talking-estate-planning.
The American Bar Association’s Commission on Law and Aging offers several website tools (www.americanbar.org), including a step-through conversation that assesses how likely someone would be to endure significant side effects given the survival likelihood of the treatment.
Despite these and many other resources, experts say, not everyone has gotten the message.
“People don’t want to talk about losing their independence – ever,” says Carol Rosenblatt, an attorney and former nurse who co-founded agingparents.com. Her company mediation and other legal services related to elder care.
By the time clients are in their 70s, they need two important tools, Rosenblatt said.
First is a fighter’s appetite for battle.
“(Long-term care) Insurers will deny claims because they can, so you have to be patient with the process and not give up when you are initially rebuffed at the claims level,” she said. “A lot of people are uncomfortable with this.”
The other “tool” is an assessment of long-term care needs, which might look different from how retirees viewed potential care needs in their 50s, she said.
“The real question now is, Can they afford now to pay for long-term care if it’s needed?” Rosenblatt said. Having perhaps a better handle on how a portfolio – and your health – are holding up might make the decision easier to let a long-term care insurance policy lapse, she said.
Having these conversations is still taboo in most families, with many parents still reluctant to share their financial details with adult kids, Bossung said.
“Where I have seen it loosen up a little has been in cases where a family has gone through a difficult time because someone didn’t make their decisions clear,” she said. “Children of those folks are starting to have these conversations.”