The Parent Care Conversation

Dan Taylor, The Parent Care Conversation: Six Strategies for Transforming the Emotional and Financial Future of Your Aging Parents (Penguin Books, New York, NY, 2006. 262 pages). $12.98 from Amazon.

One of the hardest things for aging parents and their adult children to do is sit down and have a frank discussion about the future. Such conversations are difficult for two principal reasons: they involve acknowledging the realities of aging and mortality, and financial details must be shared. But putting off these conversations until it's too late can have catastrophic consequences, both financial and emotional.

Dan Taylor, an attorney and financial planner, has written this book to help adult children broach the subject of future planning with their parents and, once the conversation gets rolling, to provide a useful framework for discussion. Taylor presents a system that grew out of his experience with his own dad's care.

For Taylor, the "Parent Care Conversation" is comprised of six separate conversations: The Big Picture Conversation (the parents' overall vision for their future); The Money Conversation (financial planning needs and strategies); The Property Conversation (how to distribute property and possessions); The House Conversation (what to do with the family home); The Professional Care Conversation (the parents' preferences for care, should they need it); and The Legacy Conversation (a summing up of the parents' journey).

In this way, Taylor allows children of aging parents to cut issues down to size and often turn potential obstacles into opportunities. The book is filled with case studies, tips and checklists and includes a special section on executing legal documents.

The book's wise counsel, however, is somewhat undercut by some gratuitous and completely false comments about the consequences of Medicaid transfers -- comments that seem aimed simply at scaring the elderly and their families into avoiding Medicaid planning at all costs. Taylor implies that elders could be accused of "defrauding" Medicaid merely for transferring assets within Medicaid's lookback period, and that they could be subject to "civil and criminal charges and fines" for doing so. Such terror-inducing statements have no basis in reality. Taylor makes a strong enough case for advance planning without having to resort to them.