5 Questions to Ask Your Parents About Death

Have you had “the talk” with your parents? No, not that talk. I assume if you didn’t have that talk, you figured things out in other ways. No, I’m thinking about the talk regarding your parent’s estate plan, or lack there of.

This is a difficult conversation. It may be the one thing that adult children as well as their parents would like to talk about less than their sex lives. Most people hate to even think about dying, let alone what happens to their stuff if they do. Over half of Americans between the ages of 55 and 64 do not even have will. Yet it is so important if things are to go the way your parents want.

Framing it this way, in terms of what happens to the stuff, trivializes all that families have to deal with at the end of a loved one’s life. The stuff is the least of the issues. Death may be preceded by a period of illness. How will your parent’s affairs be managed if they can’t do it themselves? Do you know how far your parent’s want to take their health care if their condition is grave? When they do pass, do they have specific wishes for a service, or what to do with their remains? If these issues are hard to discuss when everyone is healthy and death seems far away, think of how difficult it will be to deal with them when you are in the middle of grieving for a parent who has passed.

When my husband Jeff’s father passed away years ago, there was a pile of papers to wade through to piece together what he and his wife had. Jeff’s stepmother had not been involved in the couple’s finances, so she simply didn’t know what accounts they had and what income she could expect. It took two days to sort out the accounts, where they were and what was in them. The couple had wills and a family trust, but neither Jeff nor his siblings knew anything about them. A simple conversation about what the couple had put in place and where the documents were located would have allowed Jeff’s family to focus on saying goodbye to their father, instead of sorting through paperwork.

As with everything, preparing in advance will make everything go more smoothly. Before your folks have another birthday, sit down with them and ask them about their plans. Here are a few questions that you should have answered.

  1. Do your parents have a will and an advance health care directive? Who have they named to carry out their wishes?
  2. Have your parents given someone in the family power of attorney in the event they are incapacitated?
  3. Where do they keep these documents as well as their other financial information?
  4. What are their wishes with regard to health care at the end of life?
  5. Do they prefer burial or cremation, and what sort of remembrance would they want?

Of course these are sensitive subjects. Your parents may not want to be fully forthright about their plans, if they have put one in place, for fear of causing tension in the family. You may be able to ease their concerns by telling them that you don’t need the details of how they want their property distributed to you and your siblings. But you do need to know that they have a plan and where to find the documents if needed. Your entire family should be well aware of your parent’s wishes for health care and who will manage their affairs if they can’t manage them for themselves.

If your parents have not put any plans in place, encourage them to do so. Perhaps it can be a family activity if you haven’t done the same for yourself. Everyone can hold each other accountable to have the right documents created, and share the location of the documents with the appropriate person. If your parents are reluctant to discuss the matter, don’t let the subject drop. It may be hard to talk about death or your parents not being able to take care of themselves, but it’s better to do it while the prospect is still far away.

Photo courtesy of Unprofound.com



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