So, this post is a big drag. We know that losing your parents isn’t fun to think about and is even worse to have to talk about end of life planning with them.
Most of the time, children outlive their parents. It’s just a fact that we have to accept.
While this conversation might be awkward and maybe even painful, it’s too important to ignore.
If you are lucky enough to have one or both of your parents still alive and in your life, you will thank yourself later for covering this difficult topic beforehand.
If you take care of this while your parents are in good health, it’s going to be easier and less painful for everyone involved.
The last thing you need during a major illness or the death of a parent is a bunch of red tape, unexpected expenses or arguing family members.
Knowing what your parents need and want at the end of life will provide some ease during one of the most difficult times of your life.
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How to have a conversation about end of life planning…
First of all, you’ll probably want to let them know that you want to have this conversation ahead of time.
Some people (a lot of people) have trouble coming to grips with their own mortality. It’s scary and it’s part of human nature to want to avoid thinking about it.
Denial concerning death is natural.
You could frame the conversation with something like ” Mom (or Dad), a friend of mine just lost their parent and she had no idea what they wanted. The accounts are a mess and she is confused about what to do. Do you think we can have a conversation about this soon?”
It gives them a heads up and time to mentally prepare for conversations about some intensely private matters. Don’t just spring it on them because it might cause them to clam up, get angry or even worse.
If you don’t have great communication with your parents you can check out this book about how to communicate with elder parents.
1. What do your bills look like?
This is one of the best and worst worst questions you need to ask because finances are so intensely private for many people.
Your parents may have made some decisions that you don’t agree with concerning finances, but whatever the case don’t shame them in any way.
While you cannot be called upon to repay any credit card debt after their demise, their mortgage might be passed on to you if they have one.
This part of the conversation is also important in case they become ill or begin losing their mental faculties. If you need to take over their finances before their death, this will help you understand how much money is needed and for what.
Think about all of the recurring payments that you make each month. Chances are that they have those too. Hopefully, by this tie in their lives they are financially secure enough to have their bills on auto-pay. But, if that isn’t the case, you need to know what needs to be paid.
And, even if they are enrolled in auto-pay, you’ll need to know what to cancel when the time comes. Try to gather websites, user names and passwords if you can.
2. Do you have a Plan? ( Will, directory, etc)
Having a will and making sure it is up to date are two separate tasks.
If they have done some estate planning, great. if not, help them find an affordable and trustworthy lawyer who can make up a will or trust and assign power of attorney and a will executor.
Power of attorney allows someone to handle affairs while a person is still living. This is important in case of serious illness or loss of mental faculties. A will executor can only execute the terms of the will after someones death. This is an important distinction.
Take a look at this article to learn how to find a lawyer that will be a great fit.
3. What is paid off? And what is not?
Is their home paid off? If not you may inherit the mortgage if you are the beneficiary. Planning ahead for this is invaluable if you will suddenly have two mortgages.
Are their cars financed? Do they have any of the titles in hand to any land, real estate or businesses?
If not, finding them beforehand will save you time and expense later on.
4. Who else is involved?
If you have siblings you’ll want to keep them involved and be present for this conversation if possible.
To avoid any hard feelings, miscommunications and downright nastiness, it’s important that siblings can communicate about their parents wishes and financial situation.
It’s unfair to leave siblings out and I have seen this tear families and relationships apart.
If they have an accountant, make sure you have their name and contact information.
5. Where is the Money?
This is important. Do your parent have checking, savings, stocks bonds or money buried in jars all over the yard? (I hope not, but it happens)
Is there a safe or fire and water proof box in the house with important documents or cash? Do you know the combination? Or have a key?
Do they have a safety deposit box?
When the time comes you will need to take the death certificate to the bank. If their bank allows it, they can place a “pay upon death” beneficiary name on their accounts.
Adding your name to their bank accounts is an option that won’t require a bunch of paperwork upon their death but it can cause some familial problems if you have siblings. No one ever wants this to be true, but it does cause some problems in a lot of cases.
Not only that, if your parent makes a bad financial decision, gets hacked or scammed, you could become liable for their debts.
6. What are your last wishes?
If you made it to this point in the list… good job. Thinking about this sucks as much as writing about it does, I’m sure.
If your parents are ill or have been hospitalized for any reason, there is a good chance that they have been asked to fill out paperwork concerning their last wishes.
This not only includes the final wishes like burial or cremation, but also about life support, DNR orders and care measures in case of incapacitation.
Knowing what they want will provide peace of mind if you have power of attorney.
The guilt that comes with second guessing your parents final wishes is not something that you should have to bare.
Ask them the questions and be done with it. You’ll never need to ask again unless they let you know they have changed their mind.
Now that you have made it through the list have a glass of wine and call your parents…
And when you finish with that, treat yourself for being brave. Maybe you’ll want to plan an all inclusive trip to Mexico…maybe you’ll even get to take your Mom with you.