It’s hard. There’s no candy coating it. I feel like a bottle of wine is in order just to get through writing about it, because it’s something no child ever wants to face. Parents die. More often than not, we outlive the people who raised us, loved us, taught us and cared for us day in and day out. It’s a painful truth, and it never really dawned on me until it did.
Talking about Death
Talking to a loved one about passing is sensitive and painful, but for any family, it’s important to broach the subject sooner rather than later. My mother’s always made comments to me growing up about where she wanted to be buried. We’d hear “Amazing Grace” on the radio, and she’d say I should play that song at her funeral someday.
Last year, she was diagnosed with ALS, and the time is coming much faster than anyone is prepared for. The truth is anyone can pass at any moment, and if the pain from that isn’t enough, being left to pick up the pieces but having no idea where to put them leaves behind an unnecessary weight and unanswered questions that are much harder to deal with afterwards.
Starting the Conversation
There are a few ways to start talking about the plan for when death approaches.
- Wait for an opportune moment to bring it up, whether it be an offhand comment, a quiet pause or even a reference to someone else’s passing.
- Find relatable topics to get the ball rolling, like asking about your own estate planning.
- Just be blunt. Tell your parent(s) that you want to be prepared regardless of how far off death may be.
- If bringing it up is just proving to be too difficult, there’s always the option of putting your concerns and questions on paper and communicating that way.
Questions to Ask
The reason for having “the talk” is to get answers and find out information regarding subjects parents don’t generally share – with their children especially. There are a few key questions to ask.
- What are options if you become ill? Later in life, it’s probable that complications may present themselves to a parent. Find out what your parents want to do if they’re no longer of sound mind or unable to physically get around in their home. Would they prefer to go to a care facility? Are you able to offer up your home as an option? Or do they want some type of home care? If your parents would prefer to stay in their own home, start thinking of ways to make their home more senior-living friendly in the future: handles, taller toilets, shower seats, leveling the sidewalk, etc.
- Are you an organ donor? Finding out your parents’ wishes after they pass is important so that you can confidently speak for them. Make sure to find out where your parents keep organ-donor designation (either a driver’s license or organ donor card generally).
- What health-related concerns do I need to be aware of? If there’s something your parent is allergic to, a previous or current health-related condition or anything they absolutely would not want done (ventilator, resuscitation, etc.), you’ll want to know and communicate it to the doctor or nurse. Ask them to put that info somewhere where anyone treating your parent will see it.
- Do you have a power of attorney or advanced directive in place, and if so, who? If you’re it, you probably already know. If not, make sure your parents have someone set to speak for them.
- How do you imagine your funeral? You’ll want to know if there’s any wishes your parents have for their service, or in some cases, if they even want to have a service. Find out if there’s a certain type of minister or religious representative they’d like to do their service, if they want to be buried or cremated, and where they’d like to be laid to rest.
- Do you have a will? If your parents have a will, find out when it was written, where it’s located and who will carry it out. It’s suggested that wills be reviewed and potentially updated (if need be) every five years, so keep that in mind if the will hasn’t been looked over in a while.
- Have you updated your beneficiaries? The beneficiaries that are listed on your parents’ insurance policies or finances (investments, pensions, accounts) will take precedence over their will.
- What insurances do you have, and where can I locate the policies? If something happens to a parent, you’ll need to know about their health insurance. Is it Medicare or private? Furthermore, look up their specific policy and its coverage. Health insurance coverage is tricky, and it’s better to know what’s covered (care facilities, hospice, palliative care, etc.) if something were to happen instead of getting into a situation and finding out, for example, home care may be covered but the needed equipment is not. You’ll also want to find out where your parents’ life, disability, long-term-care, homeowners and auto insurance policies are located, so you’re aware of their coverage and have contact info to call and cancel.
- What and where are your financial accounts? Ask if your parents can put together a list of their mutual funds and bank accounts along with the account numbers. It’s also useful to have usernames and passwords to any online financial accounts. Understandably, some parents will be uncomfortable sharing that information. Ask if they can create a list and store it in a safe place (safe-deposit box or password protected online document) for when you need to access it.
- Where can I find your tax returns and financial documents? If you’re needing to assist in setting up Social Security disability or benefits or having to deal with estate matters after death, knowing where to find the previous year’s tax return may be a necessity.
- Who do I need to contact? If your parents work with any specific health, legal or financial professionals,gather their contact info. Similarly, if any legal or estate matters need to be taken care of, you’ll know the lawyer or accountant to contact.
- Do you have a safe-deposit box and key? If your parents grant you access to their safe-deposit box after they pass, you’ll need their key to get in. Knowing where to locate it will make the whole process much smoother.
There’s no denying that having “the talk” with parents is difficult and potentially a little uncomfortable, but for everyone’s sake (and sanity), it really should happen before it’s too late. Ask the important questions, get the answers, find out your parents’ wishes and have peace-of-mind knowing your family is prepared if anything were to happen.