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The aging issue St. Louis parents are not talking about with their children, but should be ... soon

Mary Lynn Faunda Donovan is the executive director of VOYCE, a local organization that helps people negotiate these conversations in the family at no cost to the family.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio
Mary Lynn Faunda Donovan is the executive director of VOYCE, a local organization that helps people negotiate these conversations in the family at no cost to the family.

Have you had “the talk?”

No, not that talk — a talk that is actually far more awkward, unwanted and, indeed, painful to have: a talk about end-of-life and long-term care decision making between parents and children.

Author Tim Prosch has written extensively about this issue in his book dubbed “The Other Talk.” He said the issues is becoming more prominent because 77 million baby boomers “are marching into retirement” and will live longer and require more care for a longer period of time.

“I’ve done literally hundreds of interviews with baby boomers about their relationship with their family and every story is different but they all seem to come down to the same refrain, which is: I’ll never put my kids through what I just went through with my parents,” Prosch told St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh. “Unfortunately, 75 percent, according to AARP will never talk to their kids about the decisions and issues and challenges that they as a family will face. Seventy percent of adult children will never discuss aging issues with their parents.”

Mary Lynn Faunda Donovan, executive director of VOYCE, a local organization that helps people negotiate these conversations in the family at no cost to the family, said that many people don’t realize just how all-encompassing long-term care decisions can be.

“Continuum really starts with remaining independent in your home but getting services to keep you independent — medical or non-medical … all the way to finding adult day services to assisted living and skilled nursing. It is that whole continuum. Thanks to an explosion in long-term care options over the last decade, families have a lot of different options for caring for someone with long-term care needs.”

Related: Four things to know about estate planning that could help you avoid fights with your family

Why isn’t this issue talked about more at the dinner table?

“It is an emotionally charged issue,” Donovan said. “You’re talking about the end of life, even though it may be decades away. Just having those discussions can be very scary for the adult child thinking about the issues as well as the senior. One of the key things we encourage families over and over is to instill a sense of urgency for families to plan for a whole new set of challenges when parents enter that last decade.”

Here are some pieces of advice from this conversation that may aide you in having such conversations:

1. “If you don’t get past emotional barriers, you’ll never get to the tactics.”

Start conversations about long-term care by talking about the emotions and fears. After admitting that, it will be easier to talk about end-of-life decisions.

2. Plan your talk as soon as possible.

Prosch said that one of the greatest fears for a parent initiating this talk is about loss of control. Planning to have “the other talk” as far out from end-of-life as you can, ensures this does not happen.

“Once you do that, it is not about losing control or your kids taking control,” Prosch said. “It becomes an issue of sharing control. If you can share control, it goes so much easier. Typically, most families wait until a crisis hits and then you’re not going to be sharing control, you’ll be arguing.”

3. Acquire long-term care insurance in your 50s.

“One rule of thumb that I have heard: Start doing it in your 50s, unless your asset base is under $200,000 or over $2 million,” Prosch said. “If you’re under $200,000, you’re probably going on Medicaid. If you’re over $2 million, you probably don’t need it.”

4. Commit yourself to full disclosure.

“The first step in this process is full disclosure with your kids,” Prosch said. “Tell them everything you’ve got, including your will. I have an uncle with two kids. His daughter was in social work, his son had done well in financial markets. He decided to give his daughter twice as much as his son. What he did that was smart was sat them down and tell them not only what was going to happen but also why. When you do that, it becomes more of a collaboration or at least they understand why it was decided that way. If you wait until you’re gone, and lawyers are involved, then you’re not only going to spend a lot of money, you’re probably going to destroy a family.”

Related Event

What: The Changing Landscape of Long Term Care Conference
When: June 10, 2016, 7:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Where: Renaissance St. Louis Airport Hotel, 9801 Natural Bridge Rd., St. Louis, MO 63134
More information.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region. 

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Kelly Moffitt joined St. Louis Public Radio in 2015 as an online producer for St. Louis Public Radio's talk shows St. Louis on the Air.
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