There are few occasions in life that anyone dreads more than the death of one of our parents. After all, our parents gave us life. They most often raised us. As most of us grew and had our own children, our parents became grandparents. We have watched them age and grow…and no matter what we say, or do, or wish…one day they will die. It's inevitable and there is nothing that anyone can do to change this unfortunate fact of life.
Still, there are steps that we can take now in order to make this unavoidable event easier. Planning ahead can lighten the burden when the time comes. Being prepared and knowing what the next steps will be can give a person peace of mind and security. Having a plan can reduce the incredible stress you may be under when the time comes.
Working in a mortuary has helped me to see planning ahead can truly make this unfortunate experience easier to digest. While it may be a difficult conversation to have, it is important to talk to your parents about their wishes. Having this conversation can prevent surprises from arising when the time comes. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen a family scramble to put together the pieces of their parent's finances, all while trying to grieve their loved one. The truth is that failing to be prepared for a parent's death can create a lot of unneeded stress and grief when you are the least equipped to deal with it. Make things easier by finding out some details ahead of time. Although you don't need to know everything, here are some things that every child should know as their parents age.
How are your parents' finances?
While you don't need to bust out a balance sheet or know every last detail about your parents' finances, you need to have a general idea of the state of their financial health. For instance, you need to know whether or not their house is paid for. If not, you need to know approximately how much they owe and when it will be paid off. Have they signed up for a reverse mortgage? Have they taken out any additional loans not including the house? Do they have any other debt? These are all important details as their estate may be liable for the debts after their death.
Furthermore, you will want to know whether or not your parents are financially equipped to pay for their health care as they age. Often times, elderly people will need to stay in nursing facilities, either for rehabilitation after a surgery or permanently as they become unable to take care of themselves. Do your parents have the ability to pay for this long-term care? Do they have enough cash to cover their expenses? Better yet, do they have long-term care insurance?
Finally, in the event of their death, you'll need to know whether or not they have life insurance. If so, you will need to know where the policies are located. At the very least, you will need to know the name of the insurance company and the policy number. Also, you will need to know if the policy is current, has a loan against it, or has lapsed. These are all important details and can save you a lot of hassle and grief if you know about them before they are needed.
Do your parents have a will?
Speaking of estates, you should know whether or not your parents have a will. Everybody who has anything of value – regardless of age – should have a will. This ensures that your heirs will know how you wish your assets to be divided once you die. It can save a considerable amount of hassle and debate later on.
If your parents do not have a will, encourage them to write one. If they do have a will, you need to know where that will is located. Having a will but not being able to find it is essentially like not having a will in the first place. In fact, it is best if each heir has a copy of the will – including any charities that your parents may wish to donate part of their estate to after they pass.
Asking your parents about their will does not mean that you are greedy or opportunistic. It is something that you need to know about so that you can properly manage their estate once they die. I would also encourage a reading of the will before the death happens. That way there are no hurt feelings or misunderstandings after the fact. Additionally, everybody knows what is in the will and they know how all of the assets will be divided. It clears the air and allows any misunderstandings to be resolved before a death occurs. Of course, this is not always possible. People often die unexpectedly and there often isn't time to read the will, much less anything else.
Do your parents have a living will?
A living will is a document that states a person's wishes for how they want to be treated in a medical sense should they become incapacitated and unable to make decisions for themselves. For instance, if a person was to be put onto life support, a living will would state the conditions under which that life support should be ceased. Children need to know whether or not their parents have a living will. We all need to know what should be done if one of our parents should become permanently unresponsive with no hope of ever returning to their prior self.
Nobody wants to be in this situation, but having a living will is really a gift of love. Families can be torn apart by this sort of a decision. Even if they all agree on a course of action, a living will can help to ease feelings of guilt about whether or not they are making the right decision. I encourage everybody – including parents and children – to get a living will today.
What are your parents' wishes for their “final disposition”?
Children need to know what their parents' wishes are for their final disposition. In other words, what do they want to happen to their body after they die? In the United States, there are typically two types of disposition from which to choose. First, a deceased person's body can be buried or entombed. Second, they can have their body cremated. It is important to know ahead of time what your loved ones would want in order to stifle debate or confusion later.
The next thing you'll need to know is how they intend to have you pay for their final disposition. Do they have a life insurance policy that they plan on using to pay for their final costs? Have they prearranged and prepaid for a funeral through a particular funeral home? Unfortunately, if they wish to have a $10,000 funeral but only have $1,000 to pay for it, they may not be able to have all their wishes met — that is, of course, unless you foot the rest of the bill. If that is the case, it is totally reasonable for you to know that ahead of time. That way you can both prepare for it and discuss less expensive options with your parents.
Type of service
You should know what sort of services your parents wish to have. Do they even want a funeral? If so, would they like it to be religious or non-religious? Are there any particular people they want to speak or specific music they want played? Where would they like to have their services held? Are they interested in having a more traditional service or would they rather have a small gathering that better suits their personality? What types of services are important to you? These are all important things to know before you need to make those decisions.
If you have not done so already, start a conversation with your parents about all of these issues. If you are an aging parent, make it easy for your children and start the conversation yourself. Try not to feel offended or ambushed. Instead, know that your children need this information out of love. Better yet, put a binder together with all of this information already planned out for them.
Unfortunately, ignoring the fact that we will die doesn't make it any less likely to happen. Being prepared ahead of time can help to ease the heartache experienced after a death and help you and your family focus on what is really important, mourning the loss of your loved one. Obviously we can't include everything that needs to be considered in this short article. However, this is a good starting place for you to begin the conversation. Hopefully you will consider starting to ask these tough questions now…before it is too late.
Author: Holly Johnson
Holly Johnson is a credit card expert, award-winning writer, and mother of two who is obsessed with frugality, budgeting, and travel. In addition to serving as contributing editor for The Simple Dollar and writing for publications such as Bankrate, U.S. News and World Report Travel, and Travel Pulse, Johnson owns Club Thrifty and is the co-author of Zero Down Your Debt: Reclaim Your Income and Build a Life You’ll Love.