This piece originally appeared on Momaha.com.
We all have examples of things we wish we would have done at some point in the past. Like buying Berkshire stock in 1990, telling your grandpa how much you really appreciated him or selling all your baseball cards when they were still worth something.
These experiences teach us lessons and give us references for making decisions later in life. But the good news is that our personal experiences aren't the only guideposts we have for making wise and regret-free decisions in life. We have the successes and failures of those who have already been down such paths and know where they end.
The older you are, the more you hear stories about families that have aged together well and, unfortunately, the more you hear stories about families that have fallen apart in the same process. Certain events and circumstances (death, chronic illness, the need to transition to assisted living care, etc.) present situations that can create stress and friction between you and your loved ones.
Knowing this, I encourage you to follow the examples of those who have already navigated these emotional challenges and emerged with smiles on their faces (and with family relationships still intact).
I imagine that most people with hindsight in this arena would agree that open communication and planning is far superior to having to make tough decisions on the fly and in the emotion-packed moments of a crisis.
Make it a priority and take the time to sit down with your parents and understand their expectations and wishes for their golden years. Know their situation. Know what kind of care they want to have if they have to be cared for outside their home. If they will allow it, know the basics of their finances and where their accounts are held.
Some of your parents likely have purchased terrific long-term care policies so that you won't have to quit your job to take care of them when they need assistance. It is smart for you to know the specific details of their policies so they can get the most use out of them when the time comes.
In the same way that it's hard to talk with your pre-teen about the birds and the bees, it is similarly uneasy for your parents to talk with you about their aging, their finances and their preferences for their last hurrah. The truth is, both of these “talks” are wise moves.
Both “talks” can be uncomfortable and seldom happen spontaneously. But you'll find a little discomfort and planning worthwhile when you realize that other families have proceeded without taking the time to get on the same page and consequently have faced damaged relationships down the line.
Planning and knowing these details in advance also allows you to be present and emotionally available when the times do get tough. There are things I do not want to be thinking about when my parents are really sick or are confused about needed lifestyle changes.
I want to be able to be their son and comfort them. I want to be able to be a good brother on whom my sisters can lean. And I want to be able to live in the moment without worrying about sorting through paperwork or making important decisions with an unclear mind.
Initiating these conversations might not be easy, but if you move into them with the right heart and mindset, you can be a good leader for your family. And even though they might not like it now, they will thank you down the road because you will have helped them make some of the toughest decisions of their life wisely and compassionately and in the most stress-free environment possible.
Matt Atchison is an Omaha financial adviser and father who occasionally blogs for momaha.com.