Getting Mom and Dad to Plan: What Not to Do

Your parents are getting up there in years. They’re still healthy—and they refuse to discuss their plans to pay for long-term care when the time comes. They’re convinced they won’t need it.

The statistics tell a different story. Someone turning 65 today has a 70% chance of needing some type of long-term care in their remaining years. Who will pay for this care? Who will make decisions for the elder when he or she becomes incapacitated?

It’s a sore subject in many families. The kids see the coming storm, but the parents are in denial. What can you do to get Mom and Dad to plan?

We posed this question to Debra King, LCSW, one of the elder care coordinators at Takacs McGinnis Elder Care Law, a Life Care Planning Law Firm in Hendersonville, Tennessee.

Debra says that it’s common for older adults to spend more time planning their funeral than planning for the time between independent living and death. The children of these older adults, frustrated by their parents’ resistance, often resort to tactics that almost never work.

One involves trying to do it for them. “The children will come to us and say, ‘Mom has dementia and we need to make a will for her,’ but you can’t do that,” Debra explains. “Or the kids may come in and want to get a power of attorney so they can make mom go to a long-term care facility. And mom won’t sign it because she believes that a power of attorney means losing control.”

Scare tactics are another approach that can have mixed results. “Playing on their fears doesn’t always work,” explains Debra. “It depends on what they’re most afraid of. If they’re afraid that Medicaid planning or getting a power of attorney means the loss of control or independence, that gives them all the more reason to put off planning.”

What can family members do instead?

According to Debra, scare tactics can be effective if they’re handled in the right way. Education is key. “Sometimes it works to say, ‘If you don’t want the government to get your house, we need to start planning now,’” she counsels. Another option is to talk about what will happen if the parent is incapacitated and hasn’t given anyone power of attorney. “Having to go through the court does more than put your private business out there for everyone to see. It strips you of a lot of your rights. When everything has to go through the court system, you have to hire lawyers, which gets expensive fast.”

Drawing attention to the unpleasant situation faced by a family member or friend can also motivate a recalcitrant elder to start the planning process. “Saying something like, ‘You saw what happened to Susie's parents when her dad got sick. He had to go to the nursing home, and they lost everything. That could happen to you if we don’t start planning now.”

Another tactic could be called, “Hey, Mom, we just saw our Life Care Planning attorney about an asset protection plan for when we’ll need long-term care. Why not think about doing yours?”

Still another option is to play the love card. “You might say, “I really worry that things are going to happen to you, and I'm not going to be able to do anything because I don't have your information, I don’t have power of attorney, and I don’t know what your preferences are,” Debra counsels. 

In Debra’s experience, the most successful people are those who plan early and plan frequently. “That's why Life Care Planning Law Firms offer their services over time,” Debra notes.

Waiting to plan can have dire consequences for the family members left behind to pick up the pieces. “We’ve had cases where the family comes to see us after their elderly loved one has been in the nursing home for many months and they’ve spent all their money,” Debra adds. “They’re ready to start planning, but we can’t do much at that point. It's hard to save half of nothing.”