Bobby Kennedy, in his speech announcing his candidacy for the presidency in 1968, said he wanted, among other things, to create policies to “close the gap between young and old.” Fifty years later, we can still imagine ways to carry out his vision.
One critical way to close the gap between generations is to “Have the Conversation.” Far too often family members have not talked about how the elderly members want to be treated when they can’t help themselves or to whom they want to leave their assets when they’re no longer with us.
A person’s wishes may be expressed in legally enforceable documents that can provide carefully considered guidance to other family members. One is a Power of Attorney for Health Care, in which the person can specify their preferences as to the level of care they want when the end is near and who is to act on their behalf. Without that document, everyone involved lacks the guidance they need. At already stressful moments, the situation only gets worse because no one seems to know what to do and the patient may well be unable to let them.
Another is a Power of Attorney for Property, in which the person indicates who they want to handle their affairs when they are unable to do so or to communicate their wishes. And without the third, a Will, loved ones may have no idea who was supposed to get what and in what amount. In that case, the distribution of the person’s assets is governed by the scheme devised by the state of Illinois. As a result, a person may get a great deal of property or other assets the deceased never intended them to have. Fights can still break out among family members even if there is a Will. But without one, family members and a court are left without any informed guidance as to the wishes of the deceased.
Families need to Have the Conversation, to talk with their loved ones about what they want. It’s not always easy to do so. After all, many simply don’t want to think about their own demise. But the planning doesn’t have to be done all in one conversation. There are a number of resources now available to help get the discussion underway. Just Google “Have the Conversation” and there are a wide variety of such resources identified. A lot of people and groups are now talking about Having the Conversation and that’s healthy. The elderly and their families will benefit. In the process, we can hopefully help close that gap.