Power of Attorney: That Conversation You Don’t Want to Have With Elderly Parents

Mar 22, 2016

Power of Attorney: That Conversation You Don’t Want to Have With Elderly Parents

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Many elderly and aging parents are unwilling to talk with their children about their plans – if they even have any - for when they can no longer make decisions for themselves. It can be an uncomfortable conversation that no one wants to have, but it must happen before any complications arise.

What exactly is Power of Attorney?

A Power of Attorney, often-abbreviated POA, is nicely described by NOLO. It is a legal document that allows your parents to give someone they chose to act in their place in the instance they are no longer able to handle their own matters. They are durable powers, which means that in the case your parents become mentally incapacitated, the powers will continue to be in effect for medical and financial decisions.

Starting the Conversation 

It is important to find a way to talk to your parents while they are still able to make their own decisions, but it can be very difficult to start that conversation.

One way to begin would be to accompany your parents to doctor’s appointments or lawyer’s visits and ask if there is anything you can do to help. It shows them that you are interested and making an effort to know what is happening in their life. By doing so, it creates an atmosphere of trust, acceptance, and understanding that will reduce the awkwardness when you start the conversation.

You should also figure out what information you are looking for. Do you need to find out if your parents have chosen their power of attorney? Or maybe you know that you have been selected as their POA, but don’t have all the information you need to properly take care of their affairs. By first determining what information you need, it can be easier to determine the next step.

4 Helpful Tips for the Talk 

Every situation is different and provides its own difficulties, but these tips should help to make the conversation as painless as possible.

1. Build Trust

Often your actions and involvement before talking with your elderly parents about POA is what determines how the conversation will go. If you have been able to show you parents that you are trustworthy by listening to their wants and needs, that you are capable of making decisions concerning medical and financial matters, and that you have their best interests at heart, they will be more willing to talk to you about their future. By building trust, it should be less of an impending discussion, and more of a talk about what the future may hold.

2. Use “I” Statements

Using “I” statements and questions instead of you can create a more comfortable and less accusing environment. You could say to your parents, “Please let me know what your wants are for when you pass so I can do the right thing” instead of, “You need to tell me your plans now because you aren’t organized enough to do this.” The first statement is showing your parents your willingness to do what they want. It is also sharing responsibility. The second statement places blame on your parents. It is showing them that you have no faith in their abilities and that they may not be able to trust you. Creating trust and showing your dependability to you parents, even through the way you say something, are key elements in lessening the stress of a POA conversation.

3. Don’t pressure them if they are uncomfortable

There is no doubt that starting the conversation will be uncomfortable for you, so imagine how your parents will feel! It is their life that you are inquiring about taking control of after they no longer can; how would that make you feel? It might take a few tries to get them to start talking. Persistence is important, but they should not feel pressured. If you begin to talk to them about it, but they get visibly uncomfortable, even angry, then it is not the time to have the conversation. Again, your parents need to know that they can trust you and are doing this for their best interest.

4. Be there when they need you

By being there when they need you, it is another aspect of trust building. If they call you to ask your help with translating a medical bill for them, make it your duty to help them as much as you can. If they ask you to sit with them while they go to the lawyer, go with them whenever possible. Not only do these experiences give you an insight into their affairs, but it shows your parents that you are willing to help when they need you: now and in the future.

Even with these tips, it can be an awkward conversation. The point is a conversation about POA needs to happen before it is too late. Not everyone’s parents are the same, but building trust and making the conversation as comfortable as you can for your elderly parents will make the conversation as stress-free as possible.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What's the difference between guardianship and Power of Attorney?

The difference between a guardianship and power of attorney is that for a guardianship the court appoints a guardian when someone is no longer capable of making his or her own decisions. However, a power of attorney is typically appointed by the person themselves. This difference is crucial because there have been many cases where a guardian has wrongly taken advantage of their subject.

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My grandfather has become incapacitated. As his power of attorney, can I sell his house to pay off medical bills?

Most likely yes. In most cases, the Power of Attorney is legally able to sell the property of the representative. This allows them to make major financial, health, and estate decisions should you or your loved one become incapacitated. A reliable guardian can ease the burden of decision-making in your loved one’s latter years.


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