As regular readers of this blog know, I spend a lot of time writing about the importance of planning ahead for life’s transitions. Recently, a client asked me to help develop a strategy for dealing with his adult daughter who simply refused to engage in the transition planning process he was trying so hard to complete.
My client was a model of planning! He had carefully gathered all of his important documents and information into one place and we had worked together to assemble his family transition plan. We had worked through tough questions, like where he would like to age if he could no longer care for himself and how he would pay for the care he needed. We were down to the home stretch – bringing his only child, his daughter, into the conversation.
And that’s where we came to a screeching halt! The daughter refused to participate in the conversation. First, my client tried taking his daughter out for dinner when she was in town visiting him and discussing the process he had undertaken and his wishes in that informal setting. She said, “Dad, why are you telling me this? Are you sick?” When he said that he was not ill but just wanted her to be prepared, she said that she is superstitious and didn’t want to talk about it for fear that something bad would happen to Dad. So we went to Plan B, a “family meeting”. Dad told his daughter that the two of them were coming to meet with me so that I could explain the process we had undertaken and let her know that there were resources available to her when the time comes. My client and I had crafted an agenda for the meeting and agreed that I would facilitate. The daughter did accompany Dad to the meeting, but sat with her arms crossed and didn’t say a word other than “hello” the whole time. Needless to say, this session was more of a lecture than a conversation!
The daughter went back to her home while her father and I brainstormed about next steps. On the one hand, we had accomplished the goal of making the daughter aware that the tools she would one day need were available to her. She knew where they were located, and had met me and had my contact information. However, we had not accomplished the very important objective of father and daughter having the important (and often difficult) conversations about his wishes in the event he can no longer make decisions or care for himself. It seemed that my client had three tasks on his to do list: put his thoughts in writing and send them to his daughter as well as including them in his family transition plan, attempt a third conversation with her at a point where she might be more receptive, and consider naming someone else as either primary or a back-up to make decisions for him in his end-of-life documents since it wasn’t clear that his daughter was willing to step into that role.
It is absolutely crucial that you choose people to act on your behalf who are both willing and able to step into your shoes. In this case, the daughter was certainly able to do so, but it was not at all clear that she was willing. Entrusting another person as your agent is a big deal. They need not only the facts and figures that will allow them to their best for you, but also the knowledge of what you would have done if you could have done it for yourself. This requires communication, and a potential agent who is not ready to engage in that communication is very likely not “the one”.