According to the National Center for Health Statistics, more people die during the holiday season, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, than any other time of the year. In December and January, 18 percent more deaths occur than any other month. Although the holidays are supposed to be a time for family and celebration, for many it’s a time for unexpected sadness.
In the Charles Dicken’s classic, “The Christmas Carol,” the Ghost of Christmas Present told Ebenezer Scrooge, “There is never enough time to do or say all the things that we would wish. The thing is to try to do as much as you can in the time that you have. Remember Scrooge, time is short, and suddenly, you’re not here anymore.”
Realizing that one, or both, of your parents is getting older and possibly needing assistance is difficult to process. Parents are often unwilling to discuss their health with their children because of embarrassment, shame, denial or even pride. There is no better time than the holidays to open the dialogue with your parents about their health, welfare and happiness.
Why are the holidays an opportune time for discussions about family health issues and asset protection? Most people are less pressured by daily work routines, family members are able to come together, and, most importantly, you, your spouse and your siblings can comfortably open a discussion over a glass of eggnog and a turkey leg or while opening gifts. Rarely, if ever, is there a first-hand opportunity throughout the year to have such discussions with your parents.
So how do we make our parents feel comfortable talking about their health and asset protection? Remember, the discussion is about your parents’ estate planning, which includes their health, assets, family, loved ones, not-so-loved ones, gifts, feuds, drama and more. It’s about their day-to-day living and their legacy and not simply about their demise. So start the discussion anywhere.
One way to begin is to discuss the documents everyone should have during life, such as a health care surrogate or a durable power of attorney. If your mother enters the hospital while unconscious, your father or another family member cannot make a medical decision for her without her having granted them written authorization. If your mother is your only surviving parent, who will pay her bills while she is unconscious? This, too, requires a durable power of attorney with her signature.
The holidays are meant to be a joyous time for family and friends to share intimate and loving concerns for one another and to celebrate the coming New Year. Once you have shared eggnog, turkey, gifts, champagne and fireworks with family and friends, think about beginning 2018 by setting up a consultation with an estate planning attorney to discuss how to help safeguard your parents’ future. Remember, Mom and Dad, “time is short, and suddenly, you’re not here anymore.”