Peace of Mind for Your Aging Parents: Q&A
Why did you decide to write this book?
We both watched our parents worry more as they grew older. Some of the things they worried about could be controlled through financial planning and estate planning, for instance. But many of their worries were about things they couldn’t control. For things they could control, we wrote about legal and financial topics. For things they couldn’t control, we wrote about psychology and spirituality.
Why did you aim the book at “adult children”?
As people grow older, many of them become less interested in financial and legal matters, and less inclined to get involved in those things. In lots of families, the parents turn to their adult children – “kids” maybe 40-60 – to help them deal with all the detail. We wanted to write a book that would help prepare families for more meaningful conversations among themselves and with their lawyers, financial planners, accountants, and other advisors.
Why all the emphasis on psychology?
We learned in our practices that both financial planning and estate planning depend a lot on psychology. Lawyers and financial planners often ask, Why won’t my clients do what I say? The answer is that clients will only do what fits their personalities. If it doesn’t fit, they won’t stick to it. So, through the whole book we talk about different solutions for different kinds of people. That’s psychology.
Second, the financial and legal worlds are full of symbolism. A will, for example, scares people because it reminds them of their mortality. A wheelchair or a walker talks about loss of freedom. We try to point out where the symbolic meanings of everyday things can affect the decisions people make.
Finally, we talk about how aging parents and their adult children see the world differently. Parents and children grew up in very different worlds. They often have different values, different fears, and different ways of looking at the world. We talk about how the adult children can bridge the communication gap that most of us have with our parents.
Tell me something interesting about financial planning.
A popular tool for financial planners is the financial pyramid, a triangular graphic that says everybody should invest most of their money on the lower, safer levels of the pyramid, progressively less as one moves up the levels. We say it’s more realistic to admit that the Christmas-tree shape is right for some people but not for others. Those who don’t like risk should invest most of their money on the lower levels. But that makes them vulnerable to inflation. The shrinking value of the dollar especially hurts cautious investments like bank accountants, bonds, and annuities. On the other hand, the Christmas tree shape is totally wrong for people who enjoy risk -- and there are more of those around than you might think. People who naturally like risk will want to invest more of their money on the higher, risker levels. But this leaves them vulnerable to their investments going broke. Truth be told, following your natural instincts isn’t good for either group. People who hate risk should invest a little more on the higher levels than they’re comfortable with, to combat inflation. People who love risk should invest a little more on the lower levels to protect against their investments going broke. Both types need a little nudge in the direction that’s opposite to their natural inclinations.
Tell me something interesting about worries that you can’t control.
When faced with scary things you can’t control, the best thing is to turn to psychology or spirituality (or both). For example, recently some really bright psychologists have been studying what makes people happy. Their answer is, Find activities in which you can really lose yourself, whether it’s an art, a craft, a business, or a sport; something where the time just flies by. Then do that as much of that as you can as a career, hobby, or pastime, and do a good dose of it on behalf of other people. That’s the secret to a happy, contented life – intense involvement helping other people.
Joan Erikson, wife of the famous developmental psychologist Erik Erikson and herself an extremely skilled psychotherapist, proposed that a downside of very old age – she was in her 90’s when she wrote this – is that you feel like your senses have deadened. She prescribes ways to enliven each of the senses. For example, find music that really excites you and listen to it a lot, even if you have to use headphones to get the volume right. Expose yourself to the aroma of home cooking or favorite fragrances, to enliven the sense of smell. Choose comfortable linens and bedclothes, hold hands with a lover, get a massage, to enliven the sense of touch. Find something that pleases each of the senses and expose yourself to it frequently.
You talk about yoga and contemplation. Tell me more.
Meditation and the other relaxation techniques can actually reduce blood pressure, relieve pain, and generally make people feel better. There are many different techniques but a popular one is to sit or lie down comfortably in a dark room, close your eyes, and begin to take deep rhythmic breaths. Imagine a little cork floating on top of the column of air as it passes through your nostrils, through your bronchii, down into your lungs and back again. Simply concentrating on your rhythmic breathing once or twice a day for 10-20 minutes will leave you feeling remarkably refreshed.
What does all that have to do with law and financial planning?
Remember what we said at the start: There are problems you can control and problems you can’t control. Many of the problems you can control are financial and legal matters. But there are lots of problems you can’t control, including some financial and legal things. That’s when you can turn to meditation and relaxation to take the edge off them. So the psychological techniques can help you find peace of mind whether you’re bothered by things you can control – or can’t control.
Where can you buy this book?