The decision by a senior citizen to stop driving can be loaded with symbolism: of decline, dependence, aging. Small wonder that relinquishing this signature privilege of adulthood is so often difficult for drivers and uncomfortable for the driver’s family to discuss. But professionals — both doctors and attorneys, can help.
What, you don’t want to go near this with a ten foot pole? Before you dismiss it out of hand, consider this: the “driving issue” is actually right up your estate planning alley. You’re in the business of helping clients protect themselves and their legacies in all sorts of ways. Assisting clients with the process of deciding whether driving is safe for them is a trifecta of client protection: for clients’ own life and health (older drivers are more likely to be seriously injured or killed in a car accident), the safety of others(including family passengers, pedestrians and other drivers), and the potential financial liabilityof a serious accident that damages property and/or destroys lives.
Now there’s actually a document to address this topic: the advance driving directive. Its purpose is for the driver to name the person that he/she wants to initiate the discussion with the driver about continued driving (or not) when the time is right. Unlike a health care power of attorney (which transfers decision making about (medical) decisions to the agent at the appropriate time), the advance driving directive does not appoint someone to make the “stop driving decision” for the driver. Rather, it’s about naming whom the client would like to have broach this touchy subject with them.
The AAA has published a sample advance driving directive, called the “Driver Planning Agreement,” created in conjunction with the American Occupational Therapy Association. (If you find any others, please share with me.)
There can also be additional benefits in offering your clients an advance driving directive:
- You will score big points with your client’s adult child(ren) by helping them and your clients break the ice on this sensitive topic.
- Seniors actually prefer to talk about this topic proactively because they want to focus on preventing driving cessation — rather than be forced to giving up their keys through an initial intervention much later on. This is the finding from the nation’s lead researcher on this topic, Marian MD Betz, MD, an emergency medicine physician. Nonetheless, clients are still unlikely to raise this topic themselves with loved ones. So, just like healthcare directives in many instances, it can be up to the clinician, attorney, or loved ones to initiate the conversation.
- There are some good resources available to help your clients and their families – which can and should be part of a family’s plan when this discussion is started earlier. These include:
- Driving preservation strategies to help keep an older adult driving safely on the road longer: driving courses, exercises to maintain physical driving abilities, even lists of vehicles that have important safety features for older drivers. (How’s that for an excuse for a client to buy a new car! Many are higher-end vehicles, too.)
- Tools for assessing an older adult’s driving, including driver self-assessments, evaluations by a loved one, and even by professionals.
- Tools to help loved ones with these conversations, including how to have the conversation about whether it’s time to stop driving and how to explore transportation alternatives for the older driver (e.g. some articles point out that a driver or taxis may not actually be more expensive than car ownership, when auto insurance and maintenance expenses are figured in).
I’ve found 4 reputable sources for this information, which is generally presented with great respect and sensitivity: AARP, AAA, NIH Institute on Aging, and The Hartford/MIT Age Lab. Feel free to email me for links to the best resources, articles, and pamphlets that I’ve located.
So do you want to provide this document to your clients as part of your estate planning process? Perhaps you’re sold. Or perhaps you like the idea but your new client agenda is just too jam-packed. An alternative to consider: introducing the concept to existing clients. It could make a great article for your newsletter, your website, a special meeting for clients and family, a client appreciation meeting or your annual client maintenance program. Again, be sure to consider its benefit for generating a relationship and warm fuzzies with clients’ adult children.