Preparing for the inevitable

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”?

Body

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.

Funeral expenses

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.

More about...Insurance, Planning

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Alex
Alex
7 years ago

Thanks for the post, Ellen. It’s not a pleasant topic but still an important one. I don’t know that the holidays are the best time to discuss this issue, but I guess you never know what the future will bring — no sense in waiting.

Justin@TheFrugalPath
7 years ago

This is a very hard conversation to have with one’s parents. We try to have the talk with my wife’s parents all the time. They kind of shut down. Long term care insurance can be very important. I don’t want one to end up needing care and then the other won’t have anything left to live on if something happens.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
7 years ago

Great post, Holly — lots of useful information! My siblings and I are lucky that my parents have been willing to sit down and discuss most of this information with us. We also know their lawyer and their accountant so we know who to call, just in case.

However, they get a little squeamish if I talk about my wishes and arrangements 😉

I think making this a New Year’s resolution is a good ice breaker. i.e. “I’m updating my will this year, and I wanted you to know…”

Meaghan
Meaghan
7 years ago

Don’t forget to talk about organ donation or donating their body to a medical school – I don’t know what it’s like in other parts of the world, but here in Ontario your choices are printed on the back of your health card. It’s still useful for your family to know, though, and to explain to them why you want to donate if they’re squeamish about it.

Holly@ClubThrifty
7 years ago
Reply to  Meaghan

Good point, Meaghan.

It is probably a regional thing but I know in some areas you have to get *approved* to donate your body to science ahead of time. Apparently there are certain criteria that need to be met to donate your body in certain areas.

It is definitely a good idea to research this ahead of time if it is something you are interested in.

KJ
KJ
7 years ago
CincyCat
CincyCat
7 years ago
Reply to  Meaghan

Excellent point! Both of my grandparents on my mother’s side made anatomical gifts to a local university. What is important to note in these cases is where the ashes will be sent when the research has been completed.

Babs
Babs
7 years ago

Good Post Holly! I will be referring to this in the future as I try to organize my affairs. As far as LTCI is concerned I have come to the conclusion that I cannot afford it. I looked again at some of the earlier discussion about it. This is a link to a table showing average premiums in Missouri http://insurance.mo.gov/consumers/LongTerm/insurance_costs.php I can’t afford that and even if I could my independent insurance agent said insurance companies are dropping these policies because they are losing money. Something like 70% of medicaid goes to nursing homes. This is something the country as… Read more »

Peach
Peach
7 years ago
Reply to  Babs

I feel much the same way, Babs. I first heard about LTCI a few years ago, and not only could I not afford it, it bothered me that so much trust was being placed in the solvency of these companies. Didn’t like it. So I try to live like the older folks did before LTCI–adapting to my changing health, living as well as I can, keeping my adult kids in the loop about my finances, saving as much as I can. I’m encouraged by a lot of other people my age who are living full and active lives, and want… Read more »

MM
MM
7 years ago

My grandmother’s estate is still in probate four years after she died. It’s been a nightmare causing all kinds of wrecked family relationships and costing so much in lawyer’s fees that it will be like Jarndyce and Jarndyce when it all ends.

My parents have thankfully learned a good lesson from this. They are simplifying their accounts and when they fully retire, they are inviting me and my sibling to go over the assets so there are no surprises if anything happens to them. My grandmother had always been secretive which compounded the problems with her estate.

Carol
Carol
7 years ago

I’m on both sides of this issue as I’ve lost one parent and have one here. We were fortunate to have had these conversations before my mother passed, she was very clear on what she wanted. All of the papers were in order, and it helped us at a very difficult time. One caveat: if a parent names their spouse to take care of all of their affairs, make sure that spouse is able to do this. If there is any level of dementia, the spouse will likely not be able handle this.

Steve
Steve
7 years ago

Any good software that can store all this collected information? One that doesn’t have to be built from scratch.

Peach
Peach
7 years ago

My mother did a lot to prepare us, years and years before she actually passed. It was helpful. I have also let my children know my wishes. In fact, I’ve lined things up for them since I was in my 30’s.

And that’s the toughest realization. Not just that older people need to plan for that day. So do younger parents and young adults. No one can predict the future, and it’s best to let your loved ones know your wishes, regardless.

Good post, Holly.

Karen
Karen
7 years ago

I would be very careful about distributing copies of your will in advance. I have a terminal illness and, when I mentioned that I was writing my will, I was surprised to discover that a number of relatives assumed that since I am childless I would automatically give EVERYTHING to my nieces and nephews. Some were angry and offended that there are other people and causes I might wish to support, especially since my nieces and nephews are almost all doing very well financially and can expect to inherit large sums from their parents (not that anyone should count on… Read more »

Megan
Megan
7 years ago

I thought that this post had a lot of good information, but don’t forget to talk about this stuff with your spouse too! My husband and I have been very clear with each other about what our wishes are for both the end or if we end up in the hospital unexpectedly. Being a mil-mil couple does make the need more apparent, but it is important for everyone to know where their spouse and parents are on this issue.

Megan
Megan
7 years ago

This was a great article and it did a nice job of tackling one of the most unpleasant topics you can think of.

I keep trying to talk to my parents about this, but I keep getting shut down – “We’re not going anywhere yet,” etc. Does anyone have tips on how I can get past this stone wall?

CincyCat
CincyCat
7 years ago
Reply to  Megan

The only thing I can think of is to agree that the topic is really uncomfortable to think about, but you would “feel a lot better” if you had some idea of what they would want so you aren’t “struggling to fulfill their wishes” if the unthinkable happens. Maybe suggest a short 1 or 2 hour discussion to get it out of the way…?

LeRainDrop
LeRainDrop
7 years ago

Thanks so much for this very informative article, Holly! My dad recently raised a couple of these topics with me and indicated he thought we should talk in more detail soon, so I’m very thankful that he broached the subject initially. This article will be a wonderful guide to ensure that we’re covering the most critical items. I feel that my parents likely have another couple decades in them, but one never knows. I’m very much a planner, so I’ll be more comfortable once the information is shared between me, my siblings, and my parents.

Brian Porter
Brian Porter
7 years ago

A conversation I am dreading having with my parents – hoping that one of my siblings bring it up since they work in the funeral industry… great article!

Rail
Rail
7 years ago

Take two. My grandparents did a great job in having things like the Will, insurance, any outstanding debt, power of attorney(IMPORTANT- BOTH MEDICAL AND FINANCAL) and having the funerals both planned and paid for, even having rough drafts of their obits done for us. What wasnt so good was the day to day. They lived for almost 50 years in their “retirement” home and in that time people collect a lot of “STUFF”(Thanks George Carlin:) .) They did virtually no going through things in the last 20 years of thier lives. They were born in 14 and 18 respectivly so… Read more »

Kathy M
Kathy M
7 years ago

Great article, so important. We didn’t have these conversations with my mother until she was terminally ill. It was so difficult to get her to make decisions while facing the end. She was in the last stages of her illness when things were finally done. So much better to have while healthy and of sound mind. Do not forget you and your spouse need to make these same decisions, including guardianship of your children, even though you are young.

Lynn
Lynn
7 years ago

Had an updated conversation with my parents last weekend when I was home for Thanksgiving. I knew the basics but Mom wanted to go over a few things.

I also had a conversation with my parents when I traveled to a “difficult” place for work. I am single so they and my sister will handle my estate anytime until they go. Mom knew a friend whose daughter predeceased her and she knew nothing about her daughter’s finances and her estate was a nightmare because they had to track things down.

Meredith
Meredith
7 years ago

Great article! When my grandfather did (heart attack coming out of the shower, died on the spot), he left my grandmother in a mess. There was no insurance, no will, no paperwork of any sort. It was a wake up call to my parents who became ultra organized and prepared (even going so far as to get LTCI and prepaying the funeral plot and funeral home). It was an awful conversation to have, they are the ones who started it with me and my mom told me outright that although it was morbid and sad to think of, it was… Read more »

Megan
Megan
7 years ago

I have a friend who lived through the nightmare scenario of having her parents die, then having to wade through their mess of finances.

She suggests talking to your nearest and dearest ahead of time regarding where to find the important papers. Keep this information in a binder, and tell that person/persons where to find it. If you have a will, include your lawyer’s contact information. Write down everything you have, even if it doesn’t have much monetary value.

Tx_Penny
Tx_Penny
7 years ago

My husband had not spoken to his father in 10 years. When he passed and we had to take care of the estate, I was so worried of what we would find. When we got to the apartment, everyone told us to look for the ‘briefcase’. He had made it clear to the family that if anything happened to him, my husband should be given the briefcase immediately. In it was his birth certificate, car title, life insurance form, bank statements, investment statements, past tax returns, will, keys to his bank safety deposit box. It was everything we could have… Read more »

Meghan
Meghan
7 years ago

My Mom and stepdad refuse to have a will, though they have two children from other marriages and one together. They’re 61 and 64. It has been brought up and their refusal is infuriating. My stepfather takes HBP meds and isn’t the picture of health. Oh and they are upside down on their home. Brilliant… Ugh. This hit a nerve.

Rail
Rail
7 years ago
Reply to  Meghan

Very sorry to hear of your situation Meghan and my prayers for you and your family. In regards to your parents lack of planning in their affairs, in my experiance a “show of force” is usually a good way of getting somebodies attention. You and your siblings and significant others show up together and gently, but firmly, demand that its time for the folks to get their sh#t together. I dont mean to be brusk about it but it sounds like you will have to strong arm this one a little bit. Explain that the procrastination has gone on long… Read more »

Evangeline
Evangeline
7 years ago

I was blessed beyond all reason when it came to this topic. Very shortly after my father died, my mother asked me to meet her at the bank so that my name was put on every account as a joint holder, meaning I had full access so I could pay her bills in case she were unable to. Next,as the documents became available, she would very casually hand me an envelope and say,’Hang on to this for me.’ When I asked why, her answer was brilliant: ‘I won’t need any of this when I’m gone, but you will so you… Read more »

Rail
Rail
7 years ago
Reply to  Evangeline

You are so right Evangeline! Having loved ones that take care of their own final arrangements is one of the biggest gifts that can be given to family and friends left behind. Luckily my Grandparents would talk about death light heartedly, saying things like “Well, everybodies doin’ it!” and then chuckle about it. Gramps had all important papers and files in a old metal lockable file. He made sure everyone knew were it was and now mom uses it for her files. Not having to worry about funeral arrangments and looking around for phone numbers and insurance papers, lawyer, etc.… Read more »

Jerry
Jerry
7 years ago

Having the right legal documents and insurance is essential to being a responsible person. And, if you have a family, it’s a must. It leads to taking a serious look at your finances but that’s a must, too.

CincyCat
CincyCat
7 years ago

This article is good – but misses a couple of key points. Everyone should first and foremost educate themselves on the laws of the state in which they live. This is for the sake of their own heirs, as well as understanding what will happen if a parent dies. If there is no will, the disposition of the deceased’s estate can vary dramatically. Also, children should not “expect” to inherit a single dime, regardless of how wealthy their parents may appear to be. A *lot* of hurt feelings can be completely avoided with this mindset. This is money that their… Read more »

CincyCat
CincyCat
7 years ago

One thing I just thought of is that if you (or your spouse) is the sole breadwinner, and/or “handles everything” – PLEASE make sure the other spouse is in the loop on the finances! I have heard time & time again what a nightmare it is for the clueless spouse if they are suddenly faced with handling all the finances either through a critical or extended illness, or through the death of the “handled everything” spouse.

Susan
Susan
7 years ago

My mother’s disgnosis with lung cancer gave us the “luxury” of having these discussions when we might not have otherwise. When the time came, we knew what she wanted and how to handle things. My father, who had never handled the money during their marriage, allowed me to take over paying his bills and handling his finances. They had a reverse mortgage, but my mother shared all of the papers with me so I knew what to expect when we sold the house. Rather than being unpleasant, these discussions allowed me to connect with my parents in more meaning ful… Read more »

Lissa
Lissa
7 years ago

I’ve tried a few times to talk to my mom about their will ( they don’t have one) and their other finances. Do you have any advice as to what one should do if your parents refuse to talk about it?

Holly@ClubThrifty
7 years ago
Reply to  Lissa

No, I’m sorry. I wish that I did. Unfortunately, death is a topic that so many people refuse to talk about. Maybe you could try explaining why it is important to you. Hopefully she will listen.

Brian Fourman
Brian Fourman
7 years ago

My wife’s father passed away several years ago unexpectedly. While we were of course devastated, we were blessed to have known a man who understood the value of planning. His will was clearly organized. In addition, he left us a detailed account of all his financial holdings, insurance, possessions, debt obligations, etc. His preparations made our grieving process easier to go through. His planning gave us clarity and focus when we weren’t in a good emotional state to be making the best decisions. As difficult as they may be, we must have these conversations ahead of time. Thanks for the… Read more »

Meghan
Meghan
7 years ago

I posted comment #24 and today my step dad was admitted to the hospital for an indefinite amount of time and had a bone marrow biopsy. I certainly hope and pray that his treatment (whether it be Aplastic Anemia or Acute Leukemia) is successful AND I hope that this gives my parents the wake up call to get their affairs in proper order. Wish me luck; if there is an opportunity, I may gently bring it up to my Mom when I go down to see them.

Holly@ClubThrifty
7 years ago
Reply to  Meghan

Oh, goodness. I’m sorry to hear that. I hope that everything turns out okay.

Meghan
Meghan
7 years ago

Thanks. They are switching to an 80/20 plan on Jan. 1st (terrible timing!). Luckily I think that their max out of pocket is $5,000. For most, that would wipe out emergency savings. We so often fail to acknowledge or be prepared for events like this. He literally hung Christmas lights a few days ago, and now everyone is wearing masks around him. Life changes quickly! I’m thankful that whatever they have to fight, they have time. So many aren’t blessed with that opportunity.

joy2b
joy2b
7 years ago

If you have a family member who you think is near end of life, make sure they’re getting hospice care. This isn’t just medical care, the social workers can help with the tough conversations. Otherwise, I think the easiest way to handle these conversations is to start by discussing how you’re handling it. If you talk to your family much, putting your own affairs in order will give you quite a few opportunities to open the conversation about how other people handle theirs. If you’re close enough to ask them to join you when you go to the lawyer, that’s… Read more »

dj
dj
7 years ago

I picked up Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s “Death and Dying” book. Recently I picked up, “Final rights: reclaiming the American way of death”. Thinks I learned as a family caregiver: (1) Communication is key. Try to keep the emotions checked. Don’t take things too personally. Be compassionate but firm. (2) Get all the legal papers in order: will or trust, durable healthcare and financial power of attorney. (3) Consider giving away some of your stuff now that has meaning or document it #2. (4) Appoint a caretaker/POA. Everyone else’s job is to support the caretaker. (5) There is a saying, “An angel… Read more »

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