How to Talk to Parents about becoming Power of Attorney

Why Talking to Parents about becoming Power of Attorney is Different

Because you’re the child (even though you’re an adult)!  The parent is the authority figure.  The parent tells you what to do, not the other way around.  The parent is used to protecting you from bad things or difficult things.  Over the years they have had to learn how to let you make your own choices and live your own life.  But this may be the first time they have to learn how to let you exert any measure of control over their lives.  And being someone’s power of attorney agent is control, believe me.

So what do you do, when a parent refuses to discuss it?

There’s a few main reasons this might be happening:  The whole parent/child thing I just talked about; fear including fear of loss of control or the unknown or death; or maybe they just don’t think you can handle it.  So how do you overcome this?

Starting early: Yep, it’s the same here.  It’s so much easier to talk about difficult things when those things seem far away.  As hard as it is to imagine a future without your parents, imagine how hard it is for them contemplating the decline in their health and eventual death.

Acknowledging emotions: Same thought, different emotions. Here, I want you to remember that your parents are used to being in charge, in control. As I said before, it’s difficult to let children take charge (how would you feel about your own children being in charge of your life—for some of you that’s downright terrifying!). It’s also scary, contemplating what might happen. The old adage of, don’t stick me in a nursing home! That’s a very real and very scary fear. That brings us right to pointing out the benefit to them. If you know what they want, it’s more likely you’ll do it than if you don’t have a clue, right?

Pointing out the benefit to you: Appeal to that instinct in your parents to protect their children. Point out that it’s going to be hard enough on you when they are in poor health or pass away. Remind them that it will make it a little easier if at least you know what they wanted and all you need to do is carry out their instructions.

Get help: A third party helps here, as well. Sometimes it’s just easier for parents to talk to other people than their children. Whether it’s a clergy member, a social worker, or a lawyer, taking some of the emotion out of it really helps.

The other thing that’s different here, is help may come in the form of another sibling or family member. You may just not be the child they have in mind to manage their affairs. It doesn’t mean they don’t love you, trust you, or that the other child is liked better. It means that people have different strengths. You might be the wisest investor of the siblings or the most financially savvy, but maybe they think you would have the more difficult time making the decision to pull the plug on life support. Maybe you live far away and another child lives closer. Maybe you have a challenging life right now—a demanding job or young children and they just don’t want to add to your responsibilities. Really, it doesn’t matter why. It might hurt, but it’s important to put those personal feelings aside and respect a parents wishes. The only time I would advise going against those wishes, is if you’re genuinely concerned that another sibling would take advantage and steal assets or not properly provide for health care for parents; then definitely get a 3rd party involved—a social worker or someone from the County Area on Aging.

The strategy I didn’t include here is not taking no for an answer. You can’t make them tell you if they just plain won’t. But see if you can understand why and figure out a creative way to address it. Maybe they’re willing to write things down and put it in a sealed envelope to be opened when needed. Maybe they’ll tell someone else—try asking. If you need more ideas or you’ve tried everything and nothing works, give us a call. We’re happy to put our brains to work on a solution.

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