This is a guest blog from Carol R. Kaufman, Founder/CEO of Pinventory, LLC
Thanksgiving is of course a time to be thankful. This year, as last year, so many of us are thankful for the safety and security of our families and belongings, while opening our hearts to those not as fortunate. We’ve been overwhelmed with the unexpected, from the pandemic to hurricanes, fires, and floods across the US. According to a new poll from the PBS NewsHour, NPR, and Marist, nearly one in three Americans have been personally affected by an extreme weather event in the last two years.
Let’s learn from these events and use our Thanksgiving gathering time to talk about the importance of getting critical life information organized and to begin to formulate our own action plans for our families and loved ones:
If you or your loved ones lost everything in a flood, a fire, or a crisis ... how would you find critical information to help with policies, bills, medications, and recovering assets? Less than 43% of Americans have a home inventory and 57% of homeowners are underinsured! (iii.org)
If you got a phone call in the middle of the night saying your elderly parent had been in an accident and the hospital needed medical information immediately, could you find it? Less than 50% of adult children know their parents’ medical histories and fewer than 49% can name any of the medications their parents take every day. (Boomer Project study)
Do you know where all the “stuff” is for your family? Or even what it is?
The tough discussions should be started now – while everyone is home for the holidays.
1. Why have the conversations?
It’s important to protect your family legacy — including the finances, the medical history, and the assets — because, in times of crisis, things fall through the cracks.
Your goal should be to save time, not only during those crises but every day. A Boston research firm found that, on average, we spend 55 minutes a day looking for things we know we have... but we can’t remember where we put them! Imagine how difficult it is to find things when operating in crisis mode. And since you love your family, you want their stress and pressure eased, not skyrocketed, when something horrible happens.
2. Why start to have the conversations now?
Because now is the right time, and it’s only a starting point. Don’t wait until you’re standing in a hospital emergency room or a funeral home. That’s not the time to start accumulating information; it’s the time to make informed decisions. Start now ... when there is no crisis. When the family is together is the best time to assess the family situation and gently pave the way for meaningful conversations.
3. What are the tough topics we need to think about?
They cover a range ... from health care proxies, health care directives, HIPAA release forms, wills, trusts, and living wills to DNRs and DNIs (Do Not Resuscitate and Do Not Intubate orders) and everything in between. They cover when to consider taking the car keys away from aging parents. They include discussing how long people can live independently ... and what options might be such as nursing homes or home care or preparing for Aging in Place. They include who will continue the family business — if someone even wants to – and, if not, how to transition it to someone else. They include alerting seniors to susceptibility to scams ... and frank conversations about finances. They include discussions about the security of the Internet and what accounts are housed there. The list of topics is endless.
4. Do we actually have to discuss these difficult topics now? Why ruin Thanksgiving?
Good question! Remember that I said “start” now. There are ways to initiate conversations that are non-threatening, for example:
Find an interesting article that you’ve read. There are so many out there, covering all of the topics mentioned above. There was an article about a rabbi and his wife who bought a desk on Craig’s list and while disassembling it to get it up the stairs, found a paper bag stuffed in the back corner of a drawer. What was in it? $98,000 cash! The seller had “forgotten” it was there. Rabbi Finds $98,000 in Desk
You can also use the one I wrote for Forbes, a number of years ago, called “Are You Gambling With Your Family’s Medical Decisions?” which serves as a great icebreaker for talking about healthcare directives with your parents, or another one I wrote on Unclaimed Property. Did you know that there is between $40 and $400 billion of unclaimed property sitting with US state governments and that you can check to see if you have any ... for free ... and claim it ... for free?
Tell a story. Why there’s someone I know who found $70,000 in bearer bonds by accident when his mother died. What if he hadn’t stumbled upon them? He hadn’t even known they existed!
Ask a question. Casually mention that you’re in the process of creating a will, considering what kind of insurance you should have, getting your adult children to give you their notarized healthcare directives, and even trying to consider if you should be an organ donor. Ask other people’s opinions on the topic. That allows you to personalize the topic and, equally important, to hear (note ... I said “hear”) others’ opinions.
Start a family project. These discussions can lead to talking about starting a home inventory, which can be a great family project and motivator; even the younger kids can help by using a cell phone to take pictures of each room of the house(es). Everyone can participate, the skills to be used are boundless, and grandkids (and adult kids) can learn the stories behind why certain items were purchased and even research what they might be worth.
All of the above start the process and pave the way for future, more focused and in-depth conversations.
5. Why is it important to listen as well as lead the conversation?
Listening is more than 50 percent of a good conversation. You learn a lot more that way! I’ve heard that’s why you have two ears and only one mouth! It’s also important to observe — are you seeing alarming changes, especially in elderly people? Are they not wearing matching clothes? Are they unsteady? Is it time to take the area rugs away or install grab bars? Is there expired food in the fridge?
6. What if the family is resistant?
Keep trying. Keep opening up the gentle conversations. Never stop trying. These must be ongoing conversations because life — and families — are constantly changing. By testing the waters now, you set the stage for future conversations. You learn to negotiate the landscape, and hopefully, avoid pitfalls. You start to build rapport or realize that you need to call in reinforcements ... perhaps professionals such as attorneys, doctors, an accountant, or even a family mediator.
The key is getting across the following message: We love our family and we love you. We want our family, all of us, to be protected. In order to do that, we need to know your wishes and your Life InventoryTM to make sure you are protected.
7. What motivated me to care so much about this issue?
I was the person who got the call in the middle of the night that no one ever wants to get: My parents had been in a car accident. My mother had been instantly killed, and my dad had lost all of his executive skills. I became the primary care coordinator for my dad for the next 14 years. When my dad peacefully passed away in 2008, my 5-year “scavenger hunt” began. Where is everything? What is everything? After six months of doing the mad scramble, including getting a safecracker to open his safe since no one knew the combination, I developed a software program and service that helps people take all of the “stuff” that’s in their heads, in their files, in their piles ... and in their homes .... and organize it into one safe, secure place, that’s always accessible when they need it. Right at their fingertips. So when not if, there’s a medical crisis or natural disaster, no one will ever have to go through what I did. Make this Thanksgiving the first of many meaningful conversations with your family. Start the conversations over your pumpkin pie or while booing or cheering a football game. And have a very happy and productive “turkey” day!
Carol R. Kaufman, Founder/CEO of Pinventory, LLC, is the creator of Pinventory® Home Inventory, a combination of software and services to help pull all of your important information into one safe, secure location (pinventory.com). Her first product, InvesTier®, was acquired by SunGard in 2002. An entrepreneur for over 40 years, Ms.Kaufman’s specialties include public speaking, training, and software/service-based solutions to organizational problems. She resides in Hawthorne, NJ.