I’ve talked for a few years about Thanksgiving as an opportune window for clients to talk with loved ones about their health care wishes and goals. For 2014, this ship has (obviously) sailed.
But the December holiday season still presents an opportunity for you to give clients valuable advice on this subject.
Most clients probably don’t want to have a full-blown, serious discussion with their families during December festivities. So rather than directing clients to sit their families down over holiday dinner, you can advise clients to use this time to “prime the pump” for a future conversation.
In this reversal, the holiday seasons serves as the starting point, not as the end game. You can suggest that clients tell loved ones that advance care planning is on their minds. And that come the new year, they want to start a conversation about their health care wishes, in case they are no longer able to decide for themselves.
There are some obvious benefits to the approach of giving loved ones some advance notice. For older clients, they give their adult children a chance to process the idea of having to talk about their parents’ disability or death. For adult children, they grant their parents some time to consider what their wishes might be before having to share those thoughts if they haven’t already. And for those of either generation who are squeamish about this topic and prefer the “avoidance” strategy, it may help make the conversation more fruitful by having gotten everyone past the first wave of anxiety, which as we know makes content not stick very well in the grey matter.
For many clients, one of the hard parts is simply figuring out how to start the conversation. Here are some introductory “scripts” that clients can use or modify to help them get over this hump.
Clients talking with their adult children:
- “Listen, I want to let you know that I’ve been thinking about what matters most to me if I can’t make my own decisions about my health care at some point. And after New Year’s, I want to talk about this with you so everyone is on the same page. (or, so that it will be easier for you and I’ll be sure that I get what I want.)”
Adult children talking with their parent(s):
- “Mom, Dad, there’s something that I’d like to talk with you about after the new year. One of my friends/I heard in the news about someone who had to make health care decisions for their mother –and they had no idea what she wanted. I realized that I don’t know what you would want if it ever came to that. And that makes me anxious. I’d really like to know, so that I can do what you want and so that I’m not forever worried that I made the wrong choice.
Obviously, these are just examples. There are plenty of other ways to approach this subject. For more ideas, some of which are humorous, see my December post from last year. Clients can also visit The Conversation Project for excellent ideas and resources.
Randi J. Siegel, MBA, is the President of DocuBank (docubank.com), which ensures that the emergency information and healthcare directives of its 200,000+ enrollees are available 24/7/365 through the largest advance directives registry in the U.S., as well as access to an online safe for storage of digital assets and other vital documents. Working with estate planning professionals since 1997, Randi frequently speaks at national estate planning conferences and has appeared on radio and television as an authority on registries. A member of the Philadelphia Estate Planning Council, the International Society of Advance Care Planning and the Coalition to Transform Advanced Care, Randi is active in health education and public engagement related to advance care planning/advance directives. She serves as Pennsylvania liaison to the National Healthcare Decisions Day initiative and as a board member of the Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of the Elderly. Randi is an ongoing contributor to the Academy blog.
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