Transparency… with Conditions
For years we have advocated greater transparency among family members when addressing issues, such as:
— the location of a parent’s will and other important documents;
— how a parent intends to bequeath her assets;
— whom the parent designates as executor of his will and his powers of attorney;
— the terms of their living will and who will make healthcare decisions for them should they lack capacity to voice their preferences; and where they would reside if they can no longer live independently.
We consistently urge parents to share this information with ALL their adult children. No exceptions. To exclude an adult child risks troubled relations among their children long after they’ve left this life for the next.
Worthy counsel indeed. But let’s remember that transparency is not an end in itself. The goal is family harmony, ensuring adult children understand their parents’ wishes, that they are willing to take the helm if a crisis affects their parents’ well-being, and honoring their wishes should they suffer a life threatening illness.
But what happens if these good intentions go awry? What if an adult child resents that another of his siblings is named financial power of attorney? Or a family member objects to an older adult’s aging in place rather than entering assisted living? Or a sibling takes issue with a parent who opts for hospice care rather than undergo high-risk medical treatment for a chronic illness?
The pursuit of transparency has risks. So, what should a parent do? Obviously have The Conversation, but with some ground rules:
1. Welcome the adult child(ren)’s suggestions but let them know that the parent constitutes a majority of one.
2. Assure family members that naming one sibling as financial power of attorney, for example, does not mean that the parent loves that sibling more than another. It has nothing to do with favoritism.
3. Encourage adult children to respect the parent’s autonomy.
4. Stress that his or her decision was made independent of any sibling’s advice or guidance. Or if it was, say so and welcome additional thoughts from other siblings.
Then make your own decisions, share them along (with your reasoning if you wish), and, in the end, ask that they be honored.
Judy Lantz says
Thank you for this wise advice! Keep it coming. I am a member of Seekers Church which is most likely where you fond me.
Ruth Dixon-Mueller says
I’ll be interested to know what you think of the book I sent you, Passing On: What’s Fair in Family Inheritance? I hope you’ll find it useful as a reference to pass on to your readers.
Chapter Six addresses the question of transparency in particular; indeed, it draws a little on your Tough Conversations ideas.