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    Senior Financial Abuse

    Are You Listening?

    As our parents get older, we often relate to them as if they were our children and we listen to them in that way. My mother suffered from Alzheimer’s and her conversations would revolve around a few topics: her need for a phone, an eye doctor appointment and another box of tissues. But occasionally she would say something quite profound, and if I weren’t listening to her carefully, I would miss it.

    Being a good listener is a real art. Several years ago I took an excellent training course in Elder Mediation offered by Elder Decisions in Boston.  Sharon, an attorney from Maryland, who was in the course with me,  introduced me to some of the books written by members of the Harvard Negotiation Project.  She shared a book with me written by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen entitled, Difficult Conversations, How to Discuss What Matters Most. In this book, the authors describe the key skills to become a good listener.  I think we would all benefit from applying these skills to our conversations with our elderly parents.

    The authors state that truly listening to another person transforms your relationship with them.  They suggest learning to listen “from the inside out.” In other words, listen with curiosity. Ask questions. Paraphrase what your parent says so s/he understands that you understand him/her. Listen for the feelings behind what is being said and acknowledge those when you hear them.

    But don’t let your conversation become an exercise in listening correctly. The heart of good listening is listening with authenticity. People will sense what’s going on inside you if you are not genuine. If your intentions are good, the words you use are not that important.

    The authors remind us that each of us has an internal voice, the voice inside our head that reports what we are thinking, not what we are saying. This internal voice is constantly evaluating everything that is going on, including our words and actions and what the other person is saying. If we are not aware of this voice, it can create havoc with our attempts to listen to others authentically.

    Listen to that internal voice in your head. What is it saying now? (What, me? I don’t have any internal voice.) Don’t turn off the voice, but listen to it carefully.  How is it evaluating what the other person is saying? Get to know the kinds of things your internal voice is transmitting to you so they don’t interfere with your conversation.

    Stay focused on curiosity in your conversation with your parent. Remember that most people, especially elders, rarely perceive that anyone is actually  listening to them. And when they sense that you are authentically paying attention, it will open up their heart.


    Financial Advisors may reprint any articles from The Gift of Communication Blog in your own print or electronic newsletter. But please include the following paragraph:

    Reprinted from Bob Mauterstock’s The Gift of Communication Blog. Subscribe at  and receive Bob’s Family Meeting Checklist Guide.

    Share Your Wisdom With Your Children

    Did your parents share their wisdom with you? Did they make you aware of anything they learned from their own successes and failures? Was it helpful to you? Have you thought about sharing your wisdom with your own children?

    Susan Turnbull in her book, “The Wealth of Your Life” reminds us that “What you have learned is as valuable as what you have earned.” If you haven’t taken the time to share the important lessons you learned in life with your children, it’s important to do so now.

    Richard Lieder, a highly respected executive coach, wrote in his book, “Life Reimagined, Discovering Your New Life Possibilities”, “As we move through middle age, the uncertainty of the world moves us to focus on what matters; our own purpose and our connection to others”

    So where do you start? How do you pass on your legacy to the next generation? By writing them a “Legacy Letter”. It is a letter to your family that defines what has been important to you in your life and what you want to pass on.

    First decide whom you want to send the letter to; your children, your spouse, your brothers and sisters

    Second make some notes in the following areas:

    • Your values and the things you did in your life to act on your values
    • Something you learned from your grandparents/ parents/spouse/children
    • Something you learned from experience
    • A mistake that you made that you learned from.
    • Something you learned that you’re grateful for
    • Your hopes for the future

    Now take these notes and weave them into a letter that is addressed to the audience you want to letter to go to. Don’t forget to add stories from your personal life that expand the points you’re trying to make. And just like that you have created a Legacy Letter.

    Share it with your loved ones the next time you get together with them. And always remember, “The gift of communication is the greatest gift you can give your family.”

    Who is Your Alpha Child?

    The Allianz Life Insurance Company conducted a study they defined as “The American Legacies Study”. They gathered information by conducting over 2000 interviews with Baby Boomers and their parents. One of the findings their study revealed was the existence of the “Alpha Child.” This is the child that keeps the family connected, who is always the first to make sure that family gatherings occur on a consistent basis, and communicates often with his siblings and parents.

    Take a look at your relationship with your own siblings. Who is the Alpha Child in your family? It may be you. Examine your relationship with your parents. If the above listed characteristics describe you, then it is most likely that you are that person. But don’t let your ego get in the way. Be objective in your evaluation of your relationship with your parents and your siblings’ relationship with them. If you are married, discuss it with your spouse and ask for his or her feedback.

    It is valuable for you to identify who your Alpha Child is. Who is the child your other children respect? Who is the child that you ask for feedback? Who is the child that acts as a leader in the family?

    Once you have identified your Alpha Child its important to have a conversation with him or her, preferably face to face. Share with her what your plans are and the preparations you have made for your retirement years. Discuss your long term care planning. What happens if you or your spouse need care? Will you stay in your home? Will you move? Who will take care of you?

    Share your end of life planning with her. I suggest strongly that you fill out “The Five Wishes” available from before you do that. It is an extremely valuable tool to clarify your end of life wishes. I call it a living will with soul.

    Ask your Alpha Child if he or she will help you organize a family meeting to discuss all of your retirement plans and concerns with the whole family. This meeting will have a life changing impact on your relationship with your children. It is most likely that you have never discussed these issues with your family before.

    If you’d like tips on how to have a successful family meeting, look below this post and get your free copy of my guide on family meetings.

    Financial Advisors may reprint any articles from The Gift of Communication Blog in your own print or electronic newsletter. But please include the following paragraph:

    Reprinted from Bob Mauterstock’s The Gift of Communication Blog. Subscribe at  and receive Bob’s Family Meeting Checklist Guide.